‘A forgotten piece of our history:’ NOAA working to expand OBX WWII marine sanctuary

Diver in the ocean
Courtesy: WAVY

DARE COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — Historically significant shipwrecks off the coast of the Outer Banks could become federally protected if the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration moves forward with a proposal to expand a marine sanctuary.

NOAA’s public comment period on the proposed expansion of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary lasts until Friday, but agency representatives say they’ll take input long after the official deadline.

The expansion would protect waters around shipwrecks involved in several periods of history, including World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic.

“It’s kind of a forgotten piece of our history, but it’s very significant,” said Joe Hoyt, a maritime archaeologist with NOAA. “If you go and you talk to school kids, they’ve heard of the Alamo, they’ve heard of Little Big Horn, they’ve heard of Gettysburg, but they haven’t heard of this.”

Expanding the sanctuary would bring more attention, reverence, and respect to a place where more than 1600 mariners lost their lives in the first six months of World War II, Hoyt said.

It also has the potential to bring federal resources to Dare County. Hoyt pointed to the Florida Keys and Michigan’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center as examples of places that have benefited from becoming part of NOAA’s sanctuary program.

The proposal has met with resistance from Dare County’s Board of Commissioners.

Although NOAA’s recommendations for the sanctuary includes “free access to any/all areas for recreation, navigation, fishing” and would not require permits, board chairman Bob Woodard said those aren’t iron-clad guarantees.

“We in Dare County have witnessed firsthand how promises made by other well-intended federal superintendents have later been set aside by those who follow after they have retired or reassigned,” Woodard said. “We have a history of the federal government not living up to their obligations.”

In its comments, the board called upon NOAA to preserve the historically significant area “through enhanced public education and by enforcing current regulations.”

The commissioners provided their full comments on the proposal. Read it here.

To read more about the proposal and add your input, visit NOAA’s website.

It will be at least a year before NOAA makes a final decision about the proposal.

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