Monitor Sanctuary celebrates 40 years

The nation's first national marine sanctuary protects a famous shipwreck.

USS Monitor

The USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was created not to protect marine life, but to preserve an important Civil War-era shipwreck. In 1975, the region surrounding the Monitor was designated the nation's first sanctuary—exactly 100 years after the designation of the nation's first national park.

January 30, 2015, marks the 40th anniversary of the nation's first national marine sanctuary—created not to protect marine life, but to preserve an important Civil War-era shipwreck.

The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is named after the warship the USS Monitor, which sank in 1862 in approximately 240 feet of water 16 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. Aside from the Monitor's ties to the Civil War, the ironclad is generally considered one of our nation's most prized maritime treasures because it changed the evolution of naval warship design.

While there was immediate interest in raising the sunken warship, its location posed a problem as there was no clear jurisdiction of protection. That's where The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 entered into the picture. This Act, which authorized the creation of marine protected areas within NOAA, offered the best means of protecting the wreck and the area surrounding it for future generations. That's how the nation's first sanctuary was born! Explore:

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The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was the first sanctuary of what now includes 14 marine protected areas in U.S. waters. The sanctuary system spans from Thunder Bay in the Great Lakes (the only fresh water sanctuary), to Fagatele Bay in American Samoa. With over 170,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes waters protected, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries works to conserve, protect, and enhance the biodiversity, ecological integrity, and cultural legacy of these special underwater places. Learn more.

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