National Association of Black Scuba Divers to help Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary unravel shipwreck mystery
September 19, 2012
Volunteer science divers with the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS) are helping Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary unlock the mystery of an early 20th century shipwreck off Key Largo, Fla. Underwater surveys and research conducted this week will build upon past studies and bring maritime archaeologists a step closer to naming the wreckage.
The shallow coral reefs of the Florida Keys have claimed countless ships over the centuries, and contributed to a once-thriving salvaging industry. The mystery wreck rests amid the reef known as “The Elbow” and is joined in close proximity by two known shipwrecks – the USS Arkansas and City of Washington.
To determine the ship's true identity, trained divers map parts of the wreck and compare those details with historical archives of ships lost at Elbow Reef in the early 1900s.
The remains of a steel-hulled ship rest in 25-feet of water, six miles off Key Largo and have been locally dubbed as “Mike’s Wreck,” named such after the employee of a local dive operator. Maritime archaeologists think the mystery shipwreck could be the Hannah M. Bell, a British steamship that grounded on the reef in April 1911, but need to conduct additional surveys and research.
“Confirming the exact ship does more than give the site a name, it provides a history and context with which divers can gain greater appreciation for our shared maritime heritage,” said Brenda Altmeier, sanctuary maritime heritage coordinator.
The NABS divers are part of a larger NOAA effort to create a cadre of skilled volunteers who can assist with archaeological field work and historic research occurring within the National Marine Sanctuary System.
“Shipwrecks provide important links to our past,” said Jay Haigler, NABS lifetime member and NOAA volunteer science diver. “By providing highly trained underwater archaeology divers to projects such as this, NABS is able to support maritime scientific exploration and foster a greater understanding of our shared maritime heritage.”
NOAA science divers from the national marine sanctuary system and National Association of Black Scuba Divers are trying to confirm the identity of a shipwreck six miles off Key Largo at Elbow Reef.
Sanctuary historians have scoured historical archives and newspapers for vessels lost at Elbow Reef and will compare the characteristics of those ships against what remains today. Sanctuary staff will use the information to establish a plan for future site documentation and management, as well as possible nomination of the site to the National Register of Historic Places.
Matthew Lawrence, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary maritime archaeologist and project principal investigator, will present preliminary information from the surveys at the second annual Florida Keys Maritime Heritage Symposium in Key West on Sept. 22.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online at floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysnoaagov.
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