NOAA 2002-R419
Contact: Stephanie Balian
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Work at Upper Keys Grounding Site Should Speed Recovery

One of the most famous coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, severely damaged in 1984 when a ship ran aground, is getting a helping hand toward recovery. The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has begun the restoration of the freighter Wellwood grounding site at Molasses Reef off Key Largo.

"We're excited that we now have the resources to begin repairing the damage to one of our most beautiful coral reefs," said Sanctuary Superintendent Billy Causey. "In the 18 years since the freighter Wellwood ran aground, the damaged reef has not regenerated. We believe the restoration work should help put the reef on the road to recovery."

The Wellwood, a 122-meter freighter registered in Cyprus, ran aground in approximately 18 feet of water on Molasses Reef in the former Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary on August 4, 1984, and remained there for 12 days. The grounding destroyed 5,085 square meters of living coral and injured 644 meters of reef framework, caused widespread destruction of bottom-dwelling organisms and displaced fish and other mobile marine life.

In December of 1986, the Wellwood Shipping Company, the Hanseatic Shipping Company and Christopher Vickers settled with the federal government for $6.275 million paid over 15 years. The amount includes a civil penalty, as well as response, assessment, and restoration costs.

NOAA is working with the construction contractor, Underwater Engineering Services, Inc., to place 22 modules at 14 locations on the grounding site. The modules are preformed concrete casts that are used to rebuild the foundation of the reef. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary "Reef Doctor" Harold Hudson designed the modules to replicate the older spur and groove formation of the grounding site as closely as possible and provide the maximum amount of habitat for fish, coral and other marine life. Hudson and other sanctuary staff members built the modules by hand over the summer of 2001, using small limestone boulders, a special composite rebar, concrete and sand.

When the project is complete, the sanctuary will install a permanent buoy marking the restoration site. Snorkelers and divers will be welcome to view the completed work, following the guideline "look, but don't touch," to allow marine life to settle and grow on the modules. Visit for project details, updates and pictures.

The National Marine Sanctuary Program, established in 1972 by the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, is administered by NOAA's National Ocean Service. The goal of the sanctuaries act is to set aside and manage areas for resource protection, research, enhanced public education, and compatible public and private uses. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America's ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. For more information on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, visit

NOAA's National Ocean Service manages the National Marine Sanctuary Program and 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.

To learn more about NOAA Ocean Service and the National Marine Sanctuary Program, please visit