Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures
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Guide to America's National Marine Sanctuaries

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Voyage to Kure
Sharks at Risk
The Gray Whale Obstacle Course

Return to the Amazon
Sea Ghosts: Belugas
Call of the Killer Whale


Maritime Heritage

NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program, created in 2002, is a national program dedicated to protecting, promoting and exploring the heritage resources in the nation's evolving coastal, marine and Great Lakes stewardship. The Maritime Heritage Program undertakes expeditions in all 13 sanctuaries, including the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. Learn more at the Maritime Heritage Program Site (at

Monitor National Marine Sanctuary

Official Web Site (at
Sanctuary Map (at

The resting place of the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor was designated the first National Marine Sanctuary by President Gerald Ford on January 30, 1975. The site was selected for its historical significance. The ship was the first to have both engines and living spaces below the waterline; it also participated in the first-ever battle between two ironclad warships when it faced off against the Confederate ship CSS Virginia. The battle heralded the beginning of a new era in naval warfare, marking the change from wood and sail to iron and steam. The Monitor sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on December 31, 1862; sixteen officers and crew members were lost.

What's Underwater
Sixteen miles from the Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, lighthouse and 230 feet underwater lie the remains of the USS Monitor. While the ship cannot be raised, divers have obtained important information from the wreck and continue to gather artifacts, including the ship's turret, propeller, anchor and engine. Also recovered so far are many personal effects of the crew, such as a brass navigation lantern, small condiment and medicine bottles, pieces of cabinetry, part of a leather book binding and ironstone dinnerware.


Visitor Center
It is not possible to raise the entire wreck of the USS Monitor intact, but many components of the ship have been recovered and are on display at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Artifacts recovered include the steam engine, propeller, anchor, rotating gun turret and numerous small personal artifacts such as silverware and clothing. A new center showcasing the design and construction of the Monitor, the famous battle at Hampton Roads and the ship's loss in the graveyard of the Atlantic opens in March 2007. More information, including interactive tours, is at


Research Projects

  • The research goals for the sanctuary are the continued scientific recovery and dissemination of historical and cultural information preserved at the site as well as the continued scientific study of the Monitor as an artificial reef. The sanctuary also monitors privately sponsored research to ensure that the site is protected and preserved.
  • A team of researchers conducted a major mapping expedition to the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary July 15-20, 2006. The expedition collected high-resolution digital still and video imagery that will be used to generate a high-quality photographic mosaic of the wreck. A collaborative effort with the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut, the expedition was broadcast live through the OceansLive Telepresence Portal. Viewers interacted with researchers and crew on the expedition via telephone and email connections. The broadcasts are archived at

Challenges Facing the Sanctuary
The greatest challenge facing the sanctuary today is protecting the wreck of the Monitor from further deterioration caused by human activity. Nothing can stop the slow natural processes of corrosion on the wreck, but that deterioration is greatly accelerated when the wreck site is altered, either intentionally or unintentionally, by people. Damage can be caused by commercial fishing nets being dragged over the wreck, loose marine debris being entangled on the ship, vessels anchoring directly on the wreck site either to fish or to scuba dive. And, of course, there is the ever-present threat of "treasure seekers" removing artifacts from the wreck. NOAA works closely with the public through education and outreach activities to reduce these threats and monitors the shipwreck to ensure that it is preserved for future generations.

Success Stories

  • The Monitor's 9-foot cast-iron propeller and 11 feet of propeller shaft were recovered in 1998 with the help of the U.S. Navy.
  • The Monitor's vibrating lever steam engine was successfully recovered in 2001.
  • In 2002, the gun turret and two 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannons were recovered from the ocean floor.
  • In addition to the large metal artifacts, numerous small artifacts have been recovered and are undergoing conservation efforts at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia. These include silverware, uniform buttons, wool coats, leather boots and other personal items.
  • Monitor NMS staff continue to work closely with the conservation staff from The Mariners' Museum to successfully conserve artifacts recovered from the site. These artifacts will ultimately be displayed in the new Monitor Center, a 64,000-square-foot addition to the museum, scheduled to open in March 2007.
  • In conjunction with the Institute for Exploration, Monitor NMS staff successfully mapped the entire sanctuary using state-of-the-art high-resolution mapping equipment during the July 2006 expedition to the site. The imagery will be compiled to create a photomosaic of the shipwreck site, the first one made since 1974.