Monitor expedition gears up as marine sanctuary system turns 50

The wreck of the Civil War battleship USS Monitor off Cape Hatteras received federal protection on January 30, 1975 as the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, making it the first site of the National Marine Sanctuary System. Photo: NOAA Monitor Collection

CAPE HATTERAS – This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuary Systems, an occasion that, by definition, makes the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary even more special because it was the very first.

The problem is that most Americans may be thinking, “What is a marine sanctuary system?” And even if the public is aware of their existence, does it understand their raison d’être?

“Not enough,” said John Armour, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, in a recent interview. “We have a lot of work to do on that.”

Next week, the public will be able to see for themselves the value of a sanctuary. From Sunday, May 15 through Wednesday, May 25, people will have a golden opportunity to watch groundbreaking science broadcast live on a new expedition to Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

According to a NOAA press release, a team of scientists and divers working on the NOAA vessel Nancy Foster as a research platform will use advanced technology, including underwater drones, to explore the Battleship Monitor. Civil War and other wrecks in the surrounding area as part of a study of their value as fish reefs.

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration’s Valor in the Atlantic Expedition begins Thursday.

Described by NOAA on its website as a “network of underwater parks,” the sanctuary system spans more than 620,000 square miles and includes 15 national marine sanctuaries on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf, American Samoa and the Great Lakes, as well as Papahānaumokuākea. and the National Marine Monuments of Rose Atoll.

The National Marine Sanctuary System turns 50 on October 23.

“I think the 50th anniversary is really an opportunity for us to expand the tent and raise a lot more awareness and frankly to appreciate and love the National Marine Sanctuary system more broadly,” Armor said.

Armor, who has been at the helm since 2016, said current efforts are focused on connecting local communities to the work of the sanctuary. Shrines also need to be more accessible, including engagement with tribal and indigenous communities, he said. And its workforce needs to be more diverse.

When the sanctuary system was created in 1972 with the passing of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, it was one of a series of landmark coastal protection bills enacted at that time, which also included the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Act, the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Amendments, according to NOAA’s online system history.

But it took three years for the first sanctuary to come to fruition, and it was by chance that the monitor was discovered about 20 miles off Cape Hatteras by Duke University researchers the year after the monitor was created. system.

One of the few photographs taken from the deck of the battleship USS Monitor, which was called
One of the few photographs taken from the deck of the battleship USS Monitor, which was called “Lincoln’s secret weapon” during the Civil War. Lincoln visited the Monitor on the day this photo was taken, July 9, 1862, but left before the photographer arrived. Siah Carter, front right, was a 22-year-old former slave who escaped from a Virginia plantation and joined the Monitor’s embedded crew, serving as assistant cook and charcoal burner until to the sinking of the battleship later that year. Photo: Library of Congress

A centerpiece

From the moment the USS Monitor rolled into Hampton Roads in early 1862, the Union Navy’s first battleship dazzled as a phenomenon of wartime engineering. Her nearly four-hour battle less than two months later at a Norfolk port with the Confederate battleship CSS Virginia ultimately ended in a draw but sealed her heroic legacy.

Even after the famed battleship and its 16 officers and crew fell in a severe New Year’s gale the same year, the Monitor remained a centerpiece of scientific and cultural interest.

Located in the famous “Graveyard of the Atlantic” – feared by sailors for its shallow, shifting shoals – the sunken vessel rests on the ocean floor 230 feet deep in a column of water of one nautical mile in diameter. The site was designated the country’s first marine sanctuary on January 30, 1975.

Thousands of artifacts have been recovered from the Monitor, most of which are housed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia. In 2001, NOAA, the United States Navy, and the Mariners Museum, among others, joined in five expeditions to recover numerous artifacts, including her steam engine and part of the hull. The following year, the monitor’s rotating turret was raised from the ocean floor during a 42-day expedition.

When the Museum of the Atlantic Cemetery in Hatteras, part of the North Carolina Maritime Museum System, completes its exhibit installation in the coming months, it plans to include artifacts from the Monitor.

The initial impetus for the Hatteras Museum was spurred by the discovery of the wreckage of the Monitor, but planning and funding difficulties delayed the project long after the artifacts went to Virginia.

In 2008, the Monitor Sanctuary proposed to expand its parameters to include some nearby sunken war wrecks, including World War II submarines. But after a series of public meetings in which local divers and fishermen voiced concerns about the increased restrictions, the proposed plan was tabled.

NOAA, meanwhile, says Navy regulations provide protections for sunken ships.

But Armor said the expansion plan could be restarted, with more public comment. Currently, NOAA is working to establish new sanctuaries off Hawaii and the south-central California coast.

Once those planning processes are finalized, which could happen within about 18 months, the Monitor Sanctuary’s proposed expansion could then be reconsidered, he said.

Nearly 160 years after the USS Monitor sank off North Carolina in a New Year's storm, the wreck discovered in 1973 teems with marine life.  Photo: NOAA
Nearly 160 years after the USS Monitor sank off North Carolina in a New Year’s storm, the wreck discovered in 1973 teems with marine life. Photo: NOAA

Open process

Armor said he understands the community’s suspicions or skepticism towards the restrictions, but he assured that each sanctuary has its own specific plan, with its own set of regulations and permitted activities which are developed by , with and for the community.

“That’s what we love about the sanctuary process is that it’s so open and collaborative,” he said. “We really do a lot to make sure that we involve all sectors of potentially affected communities in the decision and that we really benefit from the advice and perspective that communities have to offer. So there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of these topics that would come from the national office.

Enforcement is also performed on a site-by-site basis by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, which works closely with the Coast Guard and national wildlife agencies.

While activities such as diving and fishing are permitted in most marine sanctuary areas, Armor said, they also provide refuge for fish and other marine animals, promote resilience and allow for almost scientific monitoring. in real time to protect habitat and water quality.

And marine sanctuaries help solve a problem, he said, “that may be too big for people to even make up their mind.”

“I think the impacts of climate change and how they are felt in communities across the country have really highlighted the value that national marine sanctuaries can bring to the issue,” he said. “So sanctuaries and other protected areas on land and in the ocean help us focus our attention and help us focus our messaging on what we can do as average citizens to help address these challenges.”

Armor said NOAA is planning a series of events leading up to the October anniversary celebration, which are detailed on a recently updated website.

It’s all part of raising public awareness, so they can celebrate what most didn’t even know they had.

“And again, to use the 50th anniversary not to look back and congratulate ourselves on all the great things we’ve done,” he said, “but to challenge ourselves and look forward to how we we can do better on the road.”

About Opal Jones

Check Also

2022 Mid-Season Hurricane Season Update

2022 Mid-Season Hurricane Season Update In the middle of hurricane season, we now have our …