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1.0 Introduction

1.1 Crisis: The Disintegration of the Monitor

NOAA has determined that the collapse of the Monitor's hull is imminent. Photographic evidence from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary clearly shows that there has been a marked increase in the rate of deterioration of the Monitor's hull during the past five years. The Monitor was first mapped in April, 1974, shortly after it was located off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the previous August. The mapping expedition produced a detailed photomosaic of the wreck that has served for nearly two decades as the initial reference for assessing changes to the site. Since its discovery, the Monitor has suffered notable deterioration of almost every portion of its hull, with the most extensive damage occurring in the stern.

This accelerated deterioration apparently results from several causes. The primary long-term factor contributing to hull deterioration is exposure to the high-current, high-temperature, saltwater environment. The Monitor's iron components are being reduced by corrosion and electrochemical action while the wooden structures are suffering cellular deterioration and destruction by shipworms. There are also human causes. In 1991, a private fishing vessel was cited by the U. S. Coast Guard for illegal anchoring in the Sanctuary. Evidence documented by NOAA suggests that stresses on the hull caused by that anchoring incident almost certainly initiated a chain reaction of deterioration in the Monitor's stern. Over the years and as recently as 1997, commercial fishing gear has been found tangled in the wreck, signalling the potential for even more extensive damage.

There is a general consensus that the Monitor's hull has reached a critical state of decomposition beyond which catastrophic collapse could occur at any time. In 1990, even before the anchoring incident, a NOAA consultant reported that without corrective action the

Charting a New Course for the Monitor /