June 6, 2014
NOAA presents alternatives for
expansion of Monitor Marine Sanctuary
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary could encompass nearly all of
the existing wrecks off the North Carolina coast, where ships were lost
in storms and every conflict that raged off the coast.
the nation’s first marine sanctuary, situated 16 miles off Hatteras,
could expand to include just a few more isolated but significant wreck
Four draft models in various range and scope were
presented Thursday at the Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese during
a meeting of the Sanctuary’s advisory council.
“What you see here today is sort of the first step out of the gate,” Sanctuary Superintendent Dave Alberg said.
quickly added that “every one of these is designed not to limit, not to
restrict” diving activities, an acknowledgement of the intense
skepticism from the diving community since the prospect of expansion
was first raised in 2008.
Designated in 1975 to protect the
remains of the famed Civil War ironclad Monitor, a Union vessel lost in
a New Year’s Eve storm in 1862, the sanctuary, managed by NOAA’s Office
of National Marine Sanctuaries, currently is a column of water
one nautical mile in diameter around the sunken vessel. The wreck was
discovered in 1973 under 230 feet of water about 16 miles off Cape
During the planning process for the sanctuary
management plan, finalized in early 2013, members of the diving
community reacted with suspicion when they learned the management plan
included the option to expand.
“In the southern Outer Banks,
we all know what’s happened with the federal government,” commercial
fisherman and diver Steve Wilson told Alberg at a meeting in 2012 , in a
comment that typified the sentiments expressed by other divers.
“It doesn’t matter what reassurances we receive. Any third party can come along and blow that right out of the water.”
from divers at Thursday’s meeting seemed to reflect the inevitability of
some expansion, with mostly pragmatic rather than mistrustful questions
about access, costs and regulations.
Jim Bunch, a veteran diver
who presented the Expansion Working Group recommendations to the
council, said that the group felt that it was important to not cause
any harm to the diving and fishing communities. In the interest of
protecting the resource, no removal of artifacts or disturbance of the
wreck would be permitted, but fishing and anchoring over the wreck
would not be restricted.
“I guess our overriding concern,”
Bunch said, “is that people involved with these wrecks would not be
Bunch said later that dive
operations have been stretched to the limit by fuel increases and other
cost-of-living pressures. Access to wrecks is important, but so is
staying in business.
“Their plea was, ‘Don’t do anything to us that’s going to cost us any money’,” Bunch said. "'We barely get by as it is.’”
Model A, the sanctuary would include discontiguous wreck sites, such as
the well-known U-85, the HMT Bedfordshire and the U-701, but not
include state waters. Model B – the working group preference - would be
a compact area centered off Cape Hatteras that included several wrecks
with a historic theme, for instance, North American exploration.
Ideally, this would include wrecks in state and federal waters. It
would maintain free and open access to ocean users and include a
recommendation for a minimum 10-year sunset clause.
C is a hybrid of A and B that includes areas between each known site as
study areas, making it easier for inclusion of wrecks discovered in the
Model D represents a collection of federal and state
wrecks from many eras and historically significant wrecks off the Outer
Potential downsides of each of the draft models were
included in the discussion material. For instance, large areas will
have management and enforcement challenges, and separated areas lack
“This is a very difficult thing for us to do
because, frankly, every single shipwreck off the coast represents a
story,” said Kevin Duffus, a member of the expansion advisory
committee. “If I had my way, I would want to include every single
shipwreck out there, especially those wrecks that resulted in loss of
life. But that’s not practical.”
Joe Hoyt, also with the
working group and a NOAA marine archaeologist, said that the focus was
on finding a realistic way to enhance the resource – access for divers
and protection of the sunken vessels - as well as the educational
opportunities for the public.
"We knew, obviously, we couldn’t
do the take-everything model,” Hoyt said. “We want to have some of
those iconic ones that are representative of our maritime heritage.”
said that multiple data bases provide details about each shipwreck --
type of vessel, location, date, historic significance, even what
shipping lane or inlet it went down in. With the dreaded
Graveyard of the Atlantic off North Carolina having one of the greatest
concentrations of wrecks in the world, there’s a lot to work with.
is the very beginning of a discussion of what this could look like,” he
said. “This will probably change multiple times before this comes to
After the advisory council submits its
recommendation on a suitable model for expansion to NOAA, formal public
scoping meetings will be held, likely in the fall, Alberg said. A draft
environmental impact statement will be drafted for review, and a final
plan is expected in two to three years. Opportunity for public input
will be provided at all stages of the process.
“The intent here is not to take anything from anybody,” he said.
Gary Gentile, the man who successfully sued NOAA – in four lawsuits
over eight years - to force the agency to allow diving on the Monitor,
remains cynical about expansion of the sanctuary and NOAA sanctuaries
in general, which he accused of restricting access to wrecks and
fishing at sites in other states.
“It has nothing to do with preservation –it has to do with control,” he said in a telephone interview.
Gentile, 68, who lives in the mountains in Jim Thorp, Pa., has dived all over the world, including the Outer Banks.
fact that NOAA allowed funding of the Monitor artifact preservation at
The Mariner’s Museum to lapse in January, he said, impugns their
“So they let it go,” he said. “They reneged on that.”
Gentile conceded, however, that he is not objective.
“Of course, you have to imagine,” he said, “that I have a bad taste in my mouth about NOAA.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To read the Final Management Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Monitor Marine Sanctuary from February 2013, go to