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Archaeological Research at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Jun 06
Diver swimming over the remains of a ship

NOAA Diver Brenda documenting the remains of what is believed to be the Slobodna at Molasses Reef in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. 

From June 2-8, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is partnering with the volunteer organization Diving With a Purpose (DWP) to conduct archaeological research at Molasses Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). 

Teams of NOAA and DWP divers are mapping shipwreck remains at Molasses Reef buoy #13 north of the “Winch Hole”. It is believed that the shipwreck might be that of the Slobodna, which was built on the Adriatic Sea in 1884. On its last voyage it loaded a cotton cargo in New Orleans bound for Tallinn, the current capital of Estonia, on the Baltic Sea. The ship ran aground on Molasses Reef on March 20th 1887. Wreckers salvaged some of its cotton before the ship broke apart.

Last year, Hurricane Irma removed sand and rubble in the area exposing more of this shipwreck and making it more readily available for inspection. The researchers will gather information to determine if the shipwreck is associated with the Slobodna or another vessel or vessels.

FKNMS is asking for the cooperation of divers in the area to avoid the baseline and the tripods from which it is suspended in order to maintain the integrity of the line. One of the tripods can be seen in the photograph below. Divers should use caution when swimming around the area and refrain from approaching the mapping equipment. The baseline is tied and weighted but can get tangled in a tank/diver and could result in the fall of the structures (this has actually happened in the past). The reliability of the measurements depends entirely on the stability of the baseline so it is important that the line remain in the same position throughout the mapping process.

A diver works near surveying equipment

NOAA Diver Matt Lawerence works near equipment used to map a shipwreck at Molasses Reef in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The tripod shown is holding the baseline. 

Shipwrecks on Molasses Reef provide a habitat for marine life and are an important attraction for the Florida Keys diving community. Molasses Reef is a signature part of the 2900-square nautical mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary designated in 1990. Molasses Reef is further protected as one of 18 specially designated Sanctuary Preservation Areas.

This project will provide a valuable perspective on our underwater history and allow researchers to document and identify the cultural heritage that lies interspersed with the natural beauty of Molasses Reef.





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