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NOAA 04 - R454
June 17, 2004

Cheva Heck
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
(305) 292-0311, ext. 26

Restored coral reef in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary chosen as marker site

Scuba divers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration placed the nation's first underwater geodetic marker today at a coral reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The marker was installed at Molasses Reef off Key Largo where NOAA and partners are conducting a successful recovery effort following a major ship grounding that destroyed more than 5,000 meters of living corals in 1984. Together with a highly visible surface buoy, the geodetic marker will serve as a navigational aid to boaters and divers. The marker will also allow researchers to precisely monitor the recovery of the reef over time.

"The coral reefs of the Florida Keys are among America's finest treasures and an abundant source of awe and joy to those who encounter them," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "The placement of a geodetic marker in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is both an important tool and symbol of our commitment to better understand, restore and manage our thriving coral reef ecosystems."

The Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter registered in Cyprus, ran aground in approximately 18 feet of water on Molasses Reef in the former Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary Aug. 4, 1984, and remained there for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 5,085 square meters of living coral and injured 644 meters of reef framework, caused widespread destruction of bottom-dwelling organisms and displaced fish and other mobile marine life. Additional injury to the reef occurred as a result of Hurricanes Elena and Kate in 1985 and the active1998 storm season.

"This is a wonderful step that NOAA has taken to protect our precious coral reef,” said U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). “We must do everything possible to assure that this reef is protected for future generations. The reef is such an important part of our ecosystem that everything that can be done to protect it, must be done."

Drawing on experience gained from restoring other grounding sites in the region, NOAA, working with the State of Florida and the U.S. Coast Guard, developed and executed a plan for restoring the Wellwood site. The Molasses Reef restoration effort involved experts from NOAA's Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, National Marine Sanctuary Program, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Geodetic Survey and the Office of General Counsel. A number of volunteers aided the restoration effort.

“The NOAA geodetic marker at Molasses Reef will serve as a constant reminder of the fragility of our coral reefs while offering boaters and divers a practical tool for staying safe both above and below the waves,” said Tim Keeney, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary receives reports of about 600 vessel groundings each year, most of them small boats. The proper use of navigational aids, such as global positioning systems, can help boaters avoid running aground. The geodetic marker and surface buoy will provide a calibration site for boaters to check the accuracy of on-board navigational systems.

“We are grateful to the dedicated team of professionals and volunteers who have worked so tirelessly to restore Molasses Reef to health after such a devastating incident,” said Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Billy D. Causey. “We hope divers and snorkelers use the marker and buoy to locate and explore the restoration site while following the ‘look, but don’t touch’ guideline to allow the reef to continue its recovery.”

The Molasses Reef Sanctuary Preservation Area contains some of the most aesthetically valuable and heavily visited reefs in the continental United States. It is part of the Florida Reef Tract, the third largest barrier reef system in the world. Congress recognized the significance of this area when it designated the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975. It was later incorporated into the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in July 1997. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, managed by NOAA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hardbottom, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats.

NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one coral reef ecosystem reserve that encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service manages the sanctuary program, and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. The National Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. To learn more about NOAA, please visit

Wellwood reef restoration -

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