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Chesapeake Bay News


Tributary Tuesday: Mallows Bay (Charles County, Md.)

This Halloween, thrill-seeking river rats can take a trip to a graveyard—a ship graveyard! Mallows Bay, located on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River, contains the largest known shipwrecked fleet in the Western Hemisphere. A quick search on Google Maps or a look at this image from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows the fleet’s massive imprint on the waterway.

An abandoned ship in Mallows Bay with trees growing out of it.

Image courtesy FossilGuy

This steamship fleet was intended to be used during World War I. But faulty construction and the war's end rendered the fleet useless. The steamship vessels, totaling more than 200, were towed to Mallows Bay, where they were packed together so tightly that you could, according to reports, walk for a mile without touching the water.

Local watermen protested, afraid that such a high concentration of “garbage” would affect their livelihoods. Some vessels were burned, but many others were left to sink and rot.

Today, many are visible above water, but some 140 more lurk beneath the Potomac’s surface.

The above-water steamships are now home to non-human inhabitants. Great egrets can be found nesting on the decks, while vegetation peeks out from beneath the rust. On some vessels, trees as high as 50 feet tall have sprouted!

To see how the plants and animals of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem have made a home out of these sunken vessels, check out these photos and videos from kayakers who have paddled through the wreckage.

Perhaps the “haunting” nature of Mallows Bay is not one of humans that have been left behind, but resources that have been ill-disposed and forgotten.

An abandoned ship in Mallows Bay is covered with trees now.

Image courtesy FossilGuy

Want to see this ghost fleet for yourself? Launch a canoe or kayak at Charles County’s Mallows Bay Park to explore the ships up close!

About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.


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