NOAA 2002-R403
Contact: Stephanie Balian
NOAA News Releases 2002
NOAA Home Page
NOAA Public Affairs

NOAA's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary Holds Dedication Ceremony

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary dedicated their new research vessel R/V Joe Ferguson in a ceremony today at the University of Georgia's Marine Education Center and Aquarium dock on Skidaway Island, Ga. National Geographic Society Expeditions Leader Joe Ferguson perished along with seven other students, teachers and staff on the aircraft that struck the Pentagon on Sept.11.

"The new vessel will greatly improve our research capabilities and allow the staff to spend more time on the water protecting sanctuary resources," said Dan Basta, director of NOAA's National Ocean Service's National Marine Sanctuary Program. "Naming the vessel in Joe's honor is our small gesture to remember those that were lost on Sept. 11."

A former Coast Guard patrol boat converted for scientific and educational programs, the R/V Joe Ferguson will be the primary research vessel for NOAA's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. With a cruising speed of 26 knots, the vessel will be used to support patrols of the sanctuary, maintenance of buoys, reef fish and habitat assessments, water quality monitoring, as well as assist local scientists in individual projects. The vessel will soon be re-powered with new engines and made ready for full use in the Spring.

Joe Ferguson, director of the National Geographic Society Education and Outreach Program and Ann Judge, director of the Society's travel office, were accompanying the three teacher-student pairs on an educational trip to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary near Santa Barbara, Calif., as part of a society-funded marine research project known as Sustainable Seas Expeditions. The Sustainable Seas Expeditions is a five-year project of underwater exploration and discovery, with special emphasis on the nation's thirteen national marine sanctuaries. In 1999, the expedition spent two weeks exploring NOAA's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

The students and their teachers, all from Washington D.C., had been selected to participate in one of the exploration education events. Teacher James Debeuneure and student Rodney Dickens were representing Ketcham Elementary School; teacher Sarah Clark and student Asia Cottom were from Backus Middle School; and teacher Hilda Taylor and student Bernard Brown were from Leckie Elementary School. All the students were 11-year-old sixth graders.

"The staff at Gray's Reef felt it was important to name the vessel in Joe's honor in recognition of all he has done to educate students about the marine environment and America's ocean treasures," said Reed Bohne, manager of NOAA's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

NOAA's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, located 17 nautical miles off the Georgia coast, was designated in 1981 to focus education, science, and conservation efforts within an area containing one of the largest sandstone reefs in the southeastern United States. Due to seasonal mixing of warm tropical waters from the south and cold, nutrient rich waters from the north, Gray's Reef is a biological hot spot containing a rich diversity of marine life.

NOAA's National Ocean Service manages Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA Ocean Service is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving, and restoring the nation's coasts and oceans. NOAA Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

For more information on NOAA's Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary and the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, please visit the Sanctuary Program's Web site at -

For more information on the National Geographic Society, please visit –