Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Florida’s Historic Shipwrecks


National Park Service
March 21, 2005

David Barna, 202 208-6843
Gerry Gaumer, 202 208-6843
Patrick Andrus, 202 354-2218

New Travel Itinerary Invites You to Put on Your Mask and Fins

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Would-be Jacques Cousteaus have a new guide to exploring the underwater world of historic shipwrecks and the healthy habitats they create. Florida Shipwrecks: 300 Years of Maritime History offers divers and others fascinated by the stories and struggles of those hearty souls who plied the seas in search of trade and adventure an insight into 13 wrecks along the Florida coast. (Go to

“For more than 6,000 years, Florida has been the nexus of maritime trade routes that linked Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Gulf of Mexico. Ships of commerce and ships of war helped to shape the peninsula’s economic and political development,” said National Park Service Director Fran Mainella.

“Today, these same ships provide insights into our history and continue to influence the state’s tourism economy as one of the many world-class watery destinations Florida is known for. Since much of what we have learned from these wrecks is a result of the work of professional underwater archeologists and the hundreds of volunteers who support their research, we are pleased to launch this National Register of Historic Places online travel itinerary as part of Florida’s observance of Archaeology Month.”

Part of a series of nearly 40 online travel itineraries featuring sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Florida Shipwrecks takes readers back to the time of wooden hulls and pirates when killer storms sent ships to the bottom with unnerving regularity. Among the ships highlighted are:
  1. The Urca de Lima was part of a Spanish fleet sunk by a hurricane in 1715. Today the wreck of this wooden-hulled sailing ship is 200 yards offshore in 10-15 feet of water and part of a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve. Go to: (

  2. The USS Alligator, a U.S. Navy schooner built in 1820, took on pirate ships the spring and summer of 1822, but ran aground in November off Islamorada and is today preserved within the Florida Keys National Maritime Sanctuary.
  3. The Great Lakes passenger steamship Maple Leaf went to sea on June 18, 1851. Pressed into service as a U.S. Army transport vessel during the Civil War it was taken over by Confederate prisoners-of-war, recovered by the Union and sunk in 1864 when it struck a Confederate "torpedo" (what we would now call a mine) off Mandarin Point in the St. John's River.

The itinerary was created by the staff of the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, Archeology Program, and Submerged Resources Center in partnership with the Florida Division of Historical Resources, Underwater Archaeological Section of the Bureau of Archaeological Research, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.

"Our state is committed to the stewardship and preservation of these irreplaceable maritime treasures” said Frederick Gaske, Florida State Historic Preservation Officer. “Our partnership with the National Park Service allows visitors to experience and appreciate Florida's unique collection of shipwrecks, whether virtually or at the underwater sites. We are pleased to have this opportunity to work with the National Park Service to bring awareness of part of Florida's rich maritime cultural heritage to the rest of the nation and beyond."

In addition to providing histories and information on how to visit (or in one case, not visit) the shipwrecks highlighted, the itinerary offers three essays “Florida’s Maritime History,” “Why Preserve Shipwrecks,” and “Partners in Preservation: Volunteer Underwater Archeology.” A map of the sites is also included as is a listing of websites, books, and other sources to learn more about these topics.

Most of the shipwrecks in travel itinerary are easily accessible dive locations in Dry Tortugas National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, or one of Florida's Underwater Archaeological Preserves. Unless otherwise noted, they are open to sport divers. When diving, always display the "diver down" flag and use mooring buoys to prevent anchor damage to the wreck sites. Brochures and laminated underwater field guides are available from local dive shops for many of the shipwrecks.

All of the shipwreck sites in this travel itinerary are historic properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As with all historic and archeological sites on public uplands or submerged bottomlands, the shipwreck sites are protected by federal and/or Florida laws that forbid disturbance, excavation, or removal of artifacts. Living coral also are protected by law in Florida and must not be disturbed. Violators are subject to prosecution.

Florida Shipwrecks: 300 Years of Maritime History is part of the Department of the Interior's strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage visits to historic places throughout the nation. To this end, the National Register of Historic Places cooperates with communities, regions, and heritage areas throughout the United States to create online travel that highlight the diversity of this country's historic places for potential visitors.


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