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Critical Habitat for Piping Plover Protected from Shipwreck

Date Posted: January 5, 2007

On December 3 a sudden storm hit two tugboats in Lake Superior between Sault Ste. Marie and Grand Marais, Michigan, and the Seneca, which was being towed, was lost.    The U.S. Coast Guard later found the Seneca intact but grounded approximately 18 nautical miles east of Grand Marais in approximately 3 feet of water near shore.   The Coast Guard determined that the vessel contained 1900 gallons of diesel fuel, 50 gallons of lubricating oil, and some containers of paints, and contacted tribal, state, and federal resource agencies. The East Lansing Field Office (ELFO) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked with the Department of Interiors Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance to advise the Coast Guard on concerns for Service trust resources should the vessel begin to leak in place or break up and begin washing ashore at some point in the future.   ELFO contaminants specialists raised concerns about the potential for oiling of wintering ducks, herring gulls, and bald eagles likely in the area now, for oiling of migrating birds that will arrive in the spring, and for impacts to habitat from a variety of response activities that might occur along the remote, undeveloped shoreline.   The Seneca grounded just offshore from piping plover critical habitat, so ELFO endangered species biologists then began providing technical assistance to the Coast Guard as well.  The Coast Guard was able to take full advantage of intermittent favorable weather conditions.  They first removed most of the oil and hazardous substances from the tug as ice began to form around it.  Based on advice from ELFO biologists and others as to the environmental consequences of leaving the tug at the mercy of Lake Superior winter storms and ice, the Coast Guard then prepared to salvage the tug.  When the weather warmed again on December 21, they successfully repaired, re-floated, and towed the Seneca back to port at Sault Ste. Marie, arriving at about 8:30 pm on December 23.

Lisa Williams, 517-351-8324


Last updated: June 12, 2015