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Expeditions

Approaching the Monitor on the first submersible dive in 1977, an archaeologist spotted a brass navigation lantern near the turret. This lantern was of particular interest because of its red Fresnel lens, evidence that it was a signal lantern. Paymaster William Keeler mentioned in his account of watching the Monitor sink on New Year's Eve in 1862 that at approximately 1:30 am, the red distress lantern burning atop the turret and the ship itself were no longer visible. This lantern was the last visible sign of the Monitor before she sank and the very first artifact recovered from the wreck. The lantern is currently on display in the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va.

Divers working to recover turret.
Divers working to recover turret. (Photo: NOAA)
Since 1977, efforts to document the Monitor wreck site in detail, so as to better understand how it is affected by natural deterioration and human activities, have been ongoing. These efforts also included the recovery of artifacts, such as the major dives in 1979 where divers recovered numerous small artifacts. And in 1983, the Monitor's unique four-fluked anchor was recovered.

In 1987, NOAA completed baseline studies at the site that were essential for determining the rate of deterioration of the hull and changes in the sanctuary environment. Then in the 1990s, NOAA began noticing an alarming pattern of accelerated deterioration in several areas of the wreck. Due to this alarming rate of decay, NOAA was given a mandate in 1996 by Congress to develop a plan to preserve the Monitor. Therefore, in 1998, NOAA released a long-range plan that outlined a six-step proposal for stabilizing portions of the Monitor's hull and recovering the vessel's steam engine and rotating gun turret.

Propellar recovery
Propellar recovery. (Photo: NOAA)

With the help of the US Navy, Monitor's nine-foot cast iron propeller and eleven feet of propeller shaft were recovered in 1998. NOAA and the Navy began planning larger recovery expeditions in 1999, and implemented the stabilization portion of the plan in 2000 and 2001. In 2001 alone, more than 250 artifacts, including the vibrating lever steam engine, arrived at The Mariners' Museum to be conserved and prepared for exhibition in the USS Monitor Center.

Turret recovery
Turret recovery.

In 2002, a 41-day recovery effort culminated in the successful raising of the gun turret and two 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannons from the ocean floor. The engine, cannons and gun turret are currently undergoing conservation at The Mariners' Museum where visitors can look into the Batten Conservation Laboratory Complex and watch conservators at work.

In 2006, a team of researchers conducted a major Monitor mapping expedition to collect high-resolution digital still and video imagery to generate a high-quality photographic mosaic of the site.

Photomosaic of the monitor
Photographic Mosaic of the site. (Photo: NOAA)

Because research itself may result in harm to the resource, or increase the risk of harm, all research conducted at the Monitor site is subject to the sanctuary's permit regulations. Today, general research goals for the sanctuary include the continued scientific recovery and dissemination of historical and cultural information preserved at the site, the continued scientific study of the Monitor as an artificial reef and the careful review and monitoring of privately-sponsored research activities in order to ensure that the site is protected and preserved.

Click here to view a time-line of expeditions.

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