Monitor National Marine Sanctuary May Expand
Will the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary expand? NOAA, who manages the site, is hoping to increase the sanctuary to include what was known in WWII as Torpedo Alley—the waters off the Outer Banks where German U-boats sank well over 300 ships.
Established in 1975, the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was the first marine sanctuary established by NOAA. Located 16 miles south-southeast of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the sanctuary was created to preserve the site where the Monitor sank on New Year’s Eve, 1862. A remarkable piece of American history, it was the first all-metal warship ever launched.
Studies of the seabed in the area led to a 2016 recommendation that the Sanctuary be expanded to preserve and memorialize the ships and memories of the men and women who fought in the Battle of the Atlantic.
In describing why they felt the expansion was needed, NOAA wrote, “The proposed expansion would include one of America’s only World War II battlefields and protect an internationally significant collection of shipwrecks at risk from numerous threats.”
The Four Plans
NOAA has proposed four plans.
Model A would be specific to the wreck sites and would include some of the most significant shipwrecks. The three U-boats that were sunk would be included as well as the HMT Bedfordshire, the British ship that was home to the sailors buried in Ocracoke. State waters would not be included in Model A.
Model B would be a general area in the vicinity of Diamond Shoals. There have been 65 wrecks identifies in this area, not all of them, according to NOAA from WWII. Some of the wrecks recall the early days of North American exploration as well as early wars. Although state waters were not included in the proposal, the NOAA panel that outlined the recommendations felt there were wrecks of historic significance within the three nautical miles that define state waters.
Model C would initially include 75 wreck sites that would be sanctuaries, but the size could grow significantly. The plan calls for areas surrounding the wrecks to be designated study areas which could eventually be included as part of the MNMS. Although it would take state approval, there are also 175 wrecks in North Carolina waters that potentially could be part of the sanctuary. The wrecks would include a wide range of dates.
Model D would have three specific areas that would include a number of wrecks representing a variety of different times in the history of coastal North Carolina. The specific areas have not been identified because there is a discussion about whenever state waters would be included.
Where It Now Stands
When the idea of expanding the MNMS was first discussed, Marine Sanctuary officials brought the idea to Currituck and Dare Counties, the two counties that would be most affected.
Commissioners in both counties expressed considerable concern about how expanding the sanctuary would affect commercial fishing. Some of that concern is centered on the role NOAA plays in regulating commercial fishing.
Both the National Marine Fisheries and the National Marine Sanctuaries are part of NOAA and over the years there has been tension between commercial fishermen and NMS. There is concern that sanctuary areas will be designated off-limits to commercial fishing.
At an August 2018 Dare County Commissioner’s meeting, MNMS Superintendent David Alberg tried to allay some of those fears, telling the commissioners, “Most of our efforts…has been looking at the impacts of our actions on the fishing community, making absolutely certain that we proceed in a way that is an enhancement to the fishing community…”
Alberg also outlined what he and the National Marine Sanctuaries hoped would be the message of an expanded MNMS.
“Our focus in large measure is telling the story of the Merchant Marines and their loss and contribution to the war effort,” he said.
Superintendent David Alberg added that he did not expect any action on new boundaries for at least nine months at which time public input would be sought.