Reprinted by permission from the Outer Banks Voice
As the federal government gathers opinions on expanding the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, Dare County commissioners have quickly reasserted their objection to any change.
Now limited to the area off Cape Hatteras where the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor sank in 1862, the sanctuary would be expanded to honor mariners whose vessels went down during World Wars I and II, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Board of Commissioners, after a presentation on the proposal earlier this month, has submitted a letter signed by Chairman Bob Woodard, saying the changes could eventually lead to unacceptable restrictions on commercial and recreational fishing.
“Dare County believes that any concerns that MNMS may have about long-term site preservation can best be addressed through enhanced public education and by enforcing current regulations,” the letter says.
“Although enforcing regulations is challenging at the sanctuary due to its distance from the shore, the existing rules have proven adequate.”
The proposals are aimed at preserving additional sunken vessels, particularly those from the World War II battle of the Atlantic, according to NOAA. The marine sanctuary, the nation’s first, was established in 1971.
“The proposed expansion is the result of a collaborative public process and provides an opportunity for us to honor another generation of mariners who rose to the country’s defense when war erupted off America’s shores,” David Alberg, Monitor sanctuary superintendent, said in a NOAA statement. “Our goal is to protect these ships, these hallowed grave sites, and preserve the special stories they can tell about our maritime and cultural heritage.”
Plans include three varying approaches to protecting more shipwrecks in the area around the Monitor. A fourth would create three separate zones, including one off Nags Head.
See details of the proposals here.
“If, in spite of our objection, NOAA considers Sanctuary expansion, ironclad verbiage is needed to make sure that promises made today guarantee public access tomorrow for responsible SCUBA divers, and for recreational and commercial fishing,” the Dare County letter says.
“Expansion of the Sanctuary could result in the entire body of ocean waters off the Dare County seashore becoming a gigantic Marine Sanctuary in the future, which would result in highly restricted access that would devastate recreational and commercial fishing and seriously harm the economic stability of all of Dare County.”
NOAA is accepting public comments until March 18 via mail, e-mail, and electronically online. Click here for information on how to submit your comments. (There is a 5,000 character limit for online comments.)
After the public comment period is over, a possible expansion would not be implemented for an additional two to three years.
To read a detailed story about the Feb. 17 meeting held by NOAA in Hatteras, click on the Island Free Press story here.