My ocean hero: Brenda Lanzendorf

By Brenda Altmeier

March 2019

Women have been instrumental in marine science, engineering, and industry. They have led expeditions into the depths of our blue planet. They have implemented tools and strategies for protecting and preserving our underwater resources. They have guided education initiatives to share important messages about our fragile ecosystem and served as volunteers on many significant conservation projects.

group shot of divers
Brenda Lanzendorf (front row, right) and members of Diving With a Purpose gather at Biscayne National Park during DWP II, March 28, 2006. Photo: Brenda S. Altmeier/NOAA

Throughout my 26 years on staff with Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, I have been fortunate to have worked with many amazing women. Among them was one of my ocean heroes: the late Brenda Lanzendorf. This Women’s History Month and Florida Archaeology Month, I would like to recognize Brenda’s contribution to the knowledge of our nation’s underwater heritage and for inspiring others to do the same.

As the marine archaeologist for Biscayne National Park, Brenda was devoted to her career documenting the irreplaceable archaeological resources within the park and beyond. Aside from the same first name, Brenda and I shared a friendship, a love of history, and a commitment to maritime archaeology as we worked independently and together within our respective agencies.

Although Brenda passed away in 2008, her legacy lives on. Brenda’s master’s thesis in archaeology included the wreck of Adelaide Baker, an early American shipwreck in the Lower Florida Keys that is now a featured site on the sanctuary’s Shipwreck Trail. She trained and inspired many women divers over the years.

One of her favorite and longest-lasting accomplishments though was Diving With a Purpose (DWP), a non-profit diving organization created by members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. Brenda was instrumental in inspiring the establishment of DWP in 2004. DWP was born to assist with underwater archaeological projects and provide federal agencies with much needed field data collection and processing. This early collaboration with Brenda and DWP eventually expanded to include collaborative projects within the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, including Florida Keys and Thunder Bay national marine sanctuaries.

two divers underwater
2018 DWP XIV team of Rebecca Wimberley and Ayeta Healey map artifacts the Slobodna shipwreck in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo. Photo: NOAA

In 2019, DWP celebrates its 15th anniversary. Since 2004, more than 300 participants have been through the DWP training program, many of them women; 125 became maritime archaeology advocates and returning participants. DWP has accumulated an impressive 12,000 volunteer hours participating in projects where they have assisted in documenting 16 shipwrecks, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary sites Guerrero, Nimble, Hannah M. Bell, and Acorn, and one WWII aircraft in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. DWP has been instrumental in helping resource managers understand and protect underwater historical resources that are important both historically and recreationally as dive sites for local communities and visitors.

diver underwater
2018 DWP XIV team of Melanie Casner and Ayana Flewellen measure artifact distances on the Slobodna shipwreck in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo. Photo: Brenda Altmeier/NOAA

In my tenure with NOAA, I am appreciative and proud to have worked alongside many talented and dedicated women who have served our nation in both professional and volunteer capacities. Brenda will always be a part of that legacy for me.

Brenda Altmeier is the maritime heritage coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.