Diver looks at iron frame.

Diver investigating the iron frame used to mount a letter onto the beacon at Eastern Sambo. Click image for larger view.

Project Description

Following more than a decade of ad hoc investigation into the “Totten Beacons,” Office of National Marine Sanctuaries archaeologists and cultural resource managers received a grant in 2014 through NOAA’s Preserve America Initiative to undertake a comprehensive survey of the beacons and develop interpretive material to convey the importance of the U.S. Coast Survey’s efforts to protect life and property in the Florida Keys.

Supported by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and the NOAA Central Library, researchers compiled historic information, including locations where beacons were placed in the 1850s and the 1880s. Using previous archaeological survey work, the research team identified priority areas where beacon remains were reported to exist.  

In August 2014, the field research team spent four days conducting field investigations. The team consisted of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary staff including Maritime Heritage Coordinator Brenda Altmeier, vessel operators Donald Mooney and Wayne Nowocien, and biologists Lauri MacLaughlin, Todd Hitchins, and Bill Goodwin. Historian J.J. Kennedy volunteered with the sanctuary as part of the Submerged Resources Inventory program. The team also included Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Maritime Archaeologists Matthew Lawrence and Deborah Marx. Locally, Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society’s Director of Archaeology Corey Malcom was also a key member of the team.

Diver with Turtle Reef beacon.

Diver exploring the beacon at Turtle Reef. Click image for credit and larger view.

The team documented beacon remains at five reefs: Eastern Sambo, American Shoal, Pickles Reef, French Reef, and Turtle Reef. The research teams spent approximately two hours at each location recording the extant beacon remains and characterizing the surrounding biology. Researchers created scaled drawings of each artifact, recorded the beacon’s geographic positions, and collected video and still photography of the beacons above water and underwater. In addition to these more common underwater archaeological techniques, Corey Malcom employed multi-image photogrammetry to create 3D images of beacon remains on the seafloor.

The project supported the sanctuary’s mission to protect maritime heritage resources, as the archaeological data establishes a baseline for monitoring the condition of the beacons. Furthermore, it helped the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries meet its mandate under Federal law to inventory the historic properties under its jurisdiction.

The history of these navigational aids is an integral part of the Keys’ overall maritime story, intertwined as it is with natural, living resources found on the reefs that mariners sought to avoid.

View the Beacon Inventory.



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