Valor in the Atlantic 2022:

Return to USS Monitor Will Stream Live

By Mark Losavio

May 2022

You are all invited to join an exciting journey returning to the resting place of the USS Monitor, America’s first national marine sanctuary, as we celebrate the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Civil War vessel, which sank 160 years ago, will be visited by an underwater robot and systematically surveyed for the first time since Monitor’s turret was recovered in 2002. The expedition will take place May 15-25.

Will you come explore with us?

Our Submerged History

Sixteen miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, lie the remains of the iconic Civil War ironclad, USS Monitor, the prototype warship that helped save the Union and influenced naval ship design for decades. The one-mile diameter column of water surrounding this vessel is home to Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. These borders might seem small, but the story of America’s naval history extends far into the waters off North Carolina. These waters hold the great stories of our country; from how our fledgling nation nearly fractured to how it eventually grew into a global superpower.

“USS Monitor and Monitor National Marine Sanctuary represent 160 years of innovation,” said Tane Casserley, resource protection and permit coordinator for Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and co-science lead for the expedition. “2022 marks the 160th anniversary of Monitor’s launch, Battle of Hampton Roads, and sinking. From the beginning, Monitor represented hope for the nation and has always been on the cutting edge of design, innovation, and marine science. This expedition continues that legacy.”

Join Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and our partners as we set out to contribute to 50 years of exploration and research in the sanctuary system by exploring the rich submerged history of North Carolina. With the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration’s (GFOE) remotely operated vehicles (ROVs; a type of underwater robot), satellite technology, IT network, and team of engineers and filmmakers, we will use the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster as the research platform to embark on a voyage to Explore Spectacular. Additional collaborators include North Carolina’s Office of State Archaeology, and NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS). Over the course of about two weeks, researchers will visit several natural reefs and historical shipwrecks to survey and document these ocean treasures. Starting and ending with the legendary USS Monitor. Collaborating with museums, aquariums, ecologists, historians, and scientists across the nation, GFOE will broadcast the voyage live on its website and YouTube channel using its high-tech satellite streaming capabilities.

Our Nation’s Oldest Marine Sanctuary

Diver explores the shipwreck of USS Monitor while swimming through a school of amberjack. Photo: NOAA

The story of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary begins with the 1973 discovery of USS Monitor. Well, actually the story begins all the way back in 1861, when Virginia seceded from the United States during the Civil War. As Union troops retreated from the Gosport Navy Yard, they burned the steam frigate, USS Merrimack, to prevent the vessel from falling into Confederate hands. The Confederate forces, desperate to shore up their lacking naval presence, raised Merrimack and converted it into an ironclad—CSS Virginia.

This new ironclad threat prompted the U.S. Navy to take full advantage of the Union’s superior industrial capabilities to quickly produce USS Monitor. In less than 100 days, the ship launched on January 30, 1862, and less than two months later, Monitor and Virginia met on March 9, 1862, during the Battle of Hampton Roads. Although the battle ended in a draw, it heralded the end of an era for wooden warships. In December 1862, the Union requested Monitor’s now legendary strength further south. It left Hampton Roads after Christmas celebrations, and sank just a few days later on New Year’s Eve during a storm off Cape Hatteras.

For over 100 years, Monitor laid at rest in over 240 feet of water, its location unknown. Then in 1973, an expedition team consisting of Duke University, National Geographic, and the National Science Foundation discovered its final resting place. This discovery led to the creation of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, the first in a network of marine protected areas designed to manage and protect some of the nation’s greatest marine resources!

Explore Spectacular

The famous Ericsson turret being recovered from Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: NOAA

An expedition this big requires a lot of partners and team members each contributing a very special component to our voyage! The ROV equipment, satellite technology, IT network, and highly skilled engineers and filmmakers from the nonprofit, GFOE, support NOAA’s efforts to explore our planet’s ocean and share the discoveries with the world. NCCOS is lending their biological expertise, helping to characterize the area’s natural reefs and show how sunken vessels have taken on a new purpose as “oases for marine life.” NCCOS works to map these reefs and wrecks in a unique way that highlights the major biological presence that exists around them. The North Carolina Office of State Archaeology are long-time partners with Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and will be lending their expertise in helping to understand the historical context of each vessel being explored.

In addition to these esteemed institutional partners, a number of experts from around the country will lend their voice to the live stream, delivering an unforgettable underwater experience! Representatives from The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the North Carolina Aquarium system, and many more will be joining the fray! So join Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and our partners as we embark on this exciting journey back in time through U.S. history!

an image showing four different views of a shipwreck with the text global foundation for ocean exploration, and a video play button

Mark Losavio is the media and outreach coordinator for NOAA’s Monitor and Mallows Bay-Potomac River national marine sanctuaries.