NOAA seeks to preserve naval battle site “Graveyard of the Atlantic”; area residents concerned over long term economic effects

Federal officials overseeing the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary off Cape Hatteras, N.C., are seeking to extend their jurisdiction to an area dubbed “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” to preserve artifacts of a little-known naval battle site, but local fisherman and residents opposing the expansion say that it all sounds a little too fishy. The “Graveyard” designates the site where 91 American ships were sunk in a German U-boat attack on March 26, 1942.

David Alberg supervises the Monitor sanctuary, an official marine preservation site designated in 1975 to oversee the sunken wreckage and artifacts of the USS Monitor, an “ironclad” ship from the American Civil War sunk in 1862.

Alberg stated he believes the sanctuary should be extended to protect the American ships, including civilian oil tankers that went down during one of the few American coastline battle sites of World War II. The Monitor preserve is under the jurisdiction of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which initiated the proposed expansion.

Public hearings were held last month ending March 18, where residents and local fishermen expressed their concerns over how this extension of the NOAA’s area of authority will affect the tourism and fishing industries that help fuel their area’s economy.

William Judge, part of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, stated that his opposition to the expansion stems from concern for future generations. According to Judge, he expects that within 40–50 years, access to the marine preserve sites will be closed to the public.

Mike Warren, owner of the Hatteras Blue Fishing Charter in Hatteras, N.C., stated that he distrusts the government’s free-handed administrative style. Warren said he fears the government will “do whatever they want with or without permission.”

Concerns expressed by Warren and other residents extend to the people who make their living from the maritime activities. This includes fishing, tourist charter boating, stores, and restaurants.

Jim Bunch, a North Carolina resident who sits on an advisory committee for the Monitor preservation site, expressed little concern for the expansion as long as NOAA administers a non-interference policy in the expanded sites as is its stated intention. Bunch and Alberg both expressed “understanding” of the locals’ concerns.

Jean Revels is credited with fostering the expansion plan. She is the daughter of Captain Anders Johanson of the Dixie Arrow, one of the sunken ships.

Captain Johanson died in the attack. Revels was 13 at the time. Now 87, she began writing letters to NOAA after finding the bell from her father’s ship hanging in a Cape Hatteras place of business. Revels said she was outraged at the apparent “grave robbery” and this motivated her to seek government protection for the battle site.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE