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Press Release

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June 17, 2005


Cheva Heck
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
(305) 292-0311, Ext. 26
(305) 304-0179 (cellular)


Archaeologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Florida are conducting a 10-day mission to document an unknown shipwreck — possibly centuries old — in shallow water off Marathon in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The team hopes to obtain information that will help them identify the mystery wreck and add a new chapter to the maritime history of the Florida Keys.

“The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes this project as a chance to learn more about a potentially significant Keys shipwreck, share that knowledge with the community and better plan for the site’s protection,” said LCDR Stephen Beckwith, FKNMS Upper Region manager. “Protecting our maritime heritage and sharing the stories behind shipwrecks with the American public is an important part of the sanctuary’s mission.”

Joined by sanctuary staff, the archaeologists will map the ballast pile, exposed ship timbers and the coral on the site and document the site using video and still photography. To assist with dating and possible identification of the shipwreck, the team may take small samples of wood from the remaining timbers and conduct some minor excavation in areas devoid of natural resources. They will document any artifacts uncovered and may remove some for diagnostic purposes. The team will also survey the area seaward of the wreck for additional maritime heritage resources.

Funding for the project is through a mini-grant from the NOAA Maritime Heritage Program. Both the sanctuary and the State of Florida are providing personnel, equipment and other resources to support the project. Field work will take place June 20-29, 2005.

“The mystery wreck site is unique because many of the ship’s timber are exposed beneath the ballast pile,” said Roger Smith, Ph.D., state underwater archaeologist. “Due to the size of both the ship’s timbers and the ballast pile, this appears to have been a large vessel. We believe it may be historically significant, possibly even predating the Spanish fleet that was decimated by a ferocious storm in the Straits of Florida in 1733.”

The National Marine Sanctuaries Act charges the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary with managing archaeological and historical resources in its waters to protect the public’s interest and prohibits disturbing, removing or possessing artifacts without a permit. NOAA and the State of Florida work together to protect and interpret maritime heritage sites in state waters of the sanctuary.

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

The NOAA Ocean Service manages the Office of Marine Sanctuaries 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, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to
enhancing economic security and national safety through research to better understand atmospheric and climate variability and to manage wisely our nation's coastal and marine resources.

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