Russ Green observes the R-8501 at Ocracoke Island as it is loaded for the 2010 Battle of the Atlantic expedition. (NOAA)
NOAA divers dive on the Monitor! That's right, NOAA divers dove the USS Monitor on Saturday, June 19th for the first time since 2003!
The 2010 Battle of the Atlantic Expedition has been in full swing since June 9th off the coast of North Carolina. The first leg of this year's expedition focused on deep shipwrecks and technical diving, which allows scuba divers to dive much deeper than conventional scuba diving. The Monitor, which lies 240 feet beneath the surface, requires technical diving if a scuba diver is going to reach the site.
R-8501 at the dock in Ocracoke, NC (NOAA)
While the USS Monitor is not a WWII vessel like the other vessels that the Battle of the Atlantic has been focusing on, the conditions were right to make a trip out to the site. The Monitor rests 16 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras and the conditions that sunk the infamous Civil War Ironclad on a fateful night in 1862 are the same conditions that prevent divers and sanctuary staff from visiting the site regularly.
NOAA divers perform rescue diver drill. (NOAA)
The Monitor is located just off of the Diamond Shoals, which are shallow, shifting sandbars that have claimed many ships to the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The area is also the confluence of the warm Gulf Stream waters and the cold Labrador Current. The convergence of these two bodies of water makes ship navigation difficult and scuba diving impossible at times. However, while a terrible storm claimed the Monitor, the weather was beautiful and the conditions relatively perfect for our recent expedition and dive trip to the site.
Dive, dive, dive! The scuba divers plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off of the SRVx, the new east coast National Marine Sanctuary vessel. They were extremely excited to dive the USS Monitor, because this ship shaped such a large part of our Nation's history, as well as international naval ship construction.
Doug Kessling and Greg McFall set up the recompression chamber onboard the R-8501. (NOAA)
Even though I was not one of the divers on this trip, I was equally excited. I just joined the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary staff a year ago as the Research Coordinator, but this was my first trip out to the sanctuary itself. While waiting on the divers to resurface, I couldn't help but to think of the sailors that lost their lives in that very spot, fighting for their country and a cause they believed in. They had left behind mothers, fathers, wives, siblings, and children. Today, what remains of the USS Monitor represents those sailors that were lost that fateful night in 1862, and in that moment I became more proud than ever to be a part of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary helping to protect those sailors' legacy and their ship, and making sure that neither is ever forgotten.