Lakeshore communities from Two Rivers to Port Washington will able to apply for marine-sanctuary status, which could lead to protections for natural resources and improved research on shipwrecks.
An HTR Media report says the 875-square-mile area encompasses 33 known shipwrecks and countless others.
Sanctuaries are established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Agency spokeswoman Ellen Brody says she expects the first applications to begin arriving in the fall.
Manitowoc County officials plan to be among those applying. They say a sanctuary will spur tourism and provide educational benefits.
The only Great Lakes sanctuary to date is Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan. Brody says its visitor center attracts more than 80,000 people per year.