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Making Waves: Episode 35 (August 19, 2009)

… NOAA leads an underwater archeology project to find World War II shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina.
… And a new report finds that the coral reefs in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary are doing quite well

It’s Wednesday, Sep 16th, 2009. Those stories are coming up today on Making Waves, your source for news from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

(Battle of the Atlantic)
Did you know that German U-boats roamed offshore of North Carolina during World War II?

During the war, in an area off of the Outer Banks known as Torpedo Junction, there were devastating wartime losses. The final toll for Torpedo Junction included more than 80 sunken ships and hundreds of lives lost. This area off the coast of North Carolina, which was part of the Battle of the Atlantic, was the closest theatre of war to the continental United States.

Today, this area is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. It’s an area with one of the highest densities of shipwrecks in the world. And it’s one of the only places in the world where you can visit remains of both Axis and Allied vessels within recreational diving limits.

Well, last month, NOAA led the second part of a multi-year project to research and document a number of historically significant shipwrecks lost in the Battle of the Atlantic. The project is dedicated to raising awareness of the war that was fought so close to the American coastline and to preserving our nation's maritime history.

This year’s expedition ran from August 4-24. It was a continuation of the research work conducted in the summer of 2008 by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to research and document historically significant shipwrecks, including U.S. and British naval vessels, merchant marine vessels, and German U-boats.

The expedition will also help document the condition of these vessels some 67 years after they were lost. This (understanding the condition of these wrecks) is a crucial first step in establishing efforts to preserve these historic sites and their stories.

The expedition this year was divided into two phases. Phase one was conducted onboard the NOAA Research Vessel Nancy Foster. By using advanced remote sensing technologies including side scan sonar and Multi-beam sonar researchers attempted to locate several previously undiscovered WW II shipwrecks. NOAA and the University of North Carolina also deployed an advanced Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to take high definition imagery of these shipwrecks.

During the second phase, NOAA divers and partners surveyed and photographed visible sections of the British Armed Trawler, HMT Bedfordshire, using non-invasive methods. The Bedfordshire was sunk by a torpedo fired from the U-558 on May 12, 1942 with all 37 souls lost. The survey team also studied marine life found at the site, which now serves as a vibrant artificial reef.

The goal of the project is to catalog the sites' significance and identify degrading impacts from both environmental and cultural factors. This preliminary investigation will serve as a baseline for future monitoring of the sites as cultural and economic resources as well as set the stage for future research.

The people in volved with this search are doing this work using non-invasive methods. They are surveying, taking photos, and documenting visible sections of the sunken vessels, and also surveying the biological characteristics of marine life found at the sites. And it’s important to emphasize this: during the expedition, there will be no disturbances of the wreck sites. They will be treated as war graves per U.S. and international policy.

As I mentioned, the expedition was led by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, but there are a lot of other partners involved in the effort, including the Minerals Management Service, National Park Service, State of North Carolina, East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the Georgia Aquarium, and The Mariners’ Museum. And the British and German governments were consulted for the expedition.

Now this is a project that’s much better appreciated if you can see some pictures. Well you can! You can read all about the expedition, see photos, and read blog entries posted by participants on NOAA’s Battle of the Atlantic Expedition Web site, and you can get there by visiting

(Florida Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Report)
Now we’re going to head to another National Marine Sanctuary that lies in the Gulf of Mexico that most people don’t know about because it lies far from shore. The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is located between 70 to 115 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, so it’s a bit hard to get to.

Well, a new report finds that despite impacts from hurricanes, coral disease, energy exploration, commercial and recreational fishing, and other threats, this sanctuary is among the most pristine coral reef ecosystems in the tropical western Atlantic.

The report, A Biogeographic Characterization of Fish Communities and Associated Benthic Habitats within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, offers insights into the coral and fish communities within the sanctuary and will help managers track and monitor changes in this marine ecosystem.

According to Chris Caldow, the lead author of the study and NOAA marine biologist, 50 percent of the area surveyed for this report is covered by live coral. This is an important finding because this amount of coral cover is unfortunately pretty rare these days in many other parts of the ocean.

The sanctuary is also unusual in that it is dominated by top-level predators, including large groupers, jacks, and snappers that are virtually absent throughout the U.S. Caribbean. Researchers looked at the relationship between physical measures of the sanctuary’s habitat (such as depth, slope and geographic location) and the nature of the fish community in each location.

The goal of the study is to develop a way to detect and track long-term changes in fish and sea-floor community s tructure in this area, which will help resource managers better understand how threats from climate change and other stressors will impact the ecosystem.

The report cautions that despite the sanctuary’s relatively healthy condition, it may be more susceptible to environmental impacts than previously thought.

NOAA prepared the report with input from scientists and managers at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The entire report is available online, but instead of giving you a really long Web address, it’s much easier to surf over to There you’ll find an accompanying story about the report, with links to more information.

Well, that’s all for this episode. is also where you head to if you have any questions about this week’s podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean. And if you want, you can also send us an email at

Let’s bring in the ocean....

This is Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.