Peter Turcik still remembers the shot.
Leaning forward in his kayak, holding his camera still, he took a vertical shot of the sunken ship, with the setting sun as a shimmering background.
“I actually lay in the kayak to get down to water level to get the composition I wanted,” he said. “And I remember it was pretty buggy. So I tried to stay still, while the flies bit my legs.
It was August 2016 in Mallows Bay, an alcove of the Potomac River known for its array of sunken “ghost ships,” including vessels hastily built for merchant shipping during World War I and then scuttled after the war. .
Now, Turcik’s photograph will appear on a US postage stamp as part of a series on National Marine Sanctuaries.
The stamp debuts on August 5 and it’s an exciting time for Turcik, an avid photographer and outdoor enthusiast who lives beside Glebe Creek in Edgewater.
“It was a bit surreal,” he said. “I didn’t quite know how to react.”
The mintage of the National Marine Sanctuary stamps, which are offered in sets of 16, is 38 million stamps, said David Rupert, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service. These are “Forever” stamps, which have the same value—regardless of price increases—as an ordinary first-class postage stamp. A set costs $9.60.
The idea for the stamp set was selected by the USPS Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, which considers up to 30,000 possible subjects each year, Rupert said.
Once the idea was finalized, the art directors searched for photos that would best show off the shrines, and Turcik’s caught their eye, Rupert said.
“His featured work is a miniature masterpiece, featured on millions of stamps,” he wrote in a statement.
Mallows Bay was named a National Marine Sanctuary in 2019, following a year-long campaign by locals who fell in love with the waterway’s vibrant history and the diverse habitats embedded in the sea wreck. The designation met with some resistance from boatmen, who feared it would impact fishing rights. But these activities remained under the control of Maryland.
The bay is one of the only 15 shrines managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including in the Florida Keys and along the Washington Olympic Coast. Several more have been proposed, including one in Lake Ontario.
Joining the NOAA list raised Mallows Bay’s profile nationally, Park Superintendent Sammy Orlando said, and was consistent with an increase in visitor traffic, possibly also spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. Bringing the berry to a postage stamp could learn even more about it, he said.
“Despite their iconic nature, many people are unaware of National Marine Sanctuaries,” Orlando said. “So to have the Postal Service – and creative minds like Peter Turcik – bring the art of this place to a stamp and have this partnership come together to bring awareness to these places is something that I think is magical in its own way.
Turcik first visited Mallows in 2014 while working as an intern for the Chesapeake Conservancy, he said. The group was cleaning up trash in the area and Turcik learned of the shipwrecks.
“I’m a fisherman, so my first thought was, ‘Oh man, look at this whole big artificial reef for fish habitat,'” Turcik said.
But then he also started to learn about the history of the site.
“It really got me excited about this place,” Turcik said.
There is the fleet of ships hastily built for the First World War to counter the German submarine offensive, then abandoned after the end of the war. There are also the abandoned SS Accomac Ferry, which once hauled cars from Norfolk, Va., to the East Coast. The site has dozens of other ships, each with its own past – and new life in the present.
Donald Shomette, a historian and archaeologist who has studied Mallows Bay, calls them “flowerpots.”
The evening sun
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“They have their own little mini-ecosystems on board,” he said.
Shortly after his internship, Turcik returned to help the reserve create a paddle guide to the wrecks, taking photos along the way. Then he came more and more to take pictures for fun.
Since the site became a sanctuary, NOAA staff members have begun working to increase the amount of educational signage – alongside the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which owns Mallows Bay Park and leases it to the county of Charles – and other stakeholders including the Piscataway Conoy Tribe and Piscataway Indian Nation.
“When you go there now, there is very little signage in place. I mean, next to nothing,” Orlando said.
Signs could help visitors identify vegetation and wildlife like osprey and great blue herons and offer historical facts about the bay, Orlando said. Organizers hope the installation of signs will begin in the coming months, he added.
NOAA also worked alongside the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to develop an early prototype of a paddle virtual tourplenty of 360 degree videos guiding viewers around the bay.
“I don’t know if things like this would have been done if it hadn’t been a sanctuary,” Orlando said. “This is our chance to reach people in a completely different way that has never been done before.”