- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - A 19th century shipwreck in the waters off St. Petersburg is slated to become the state’s 12th underwater archaeological preserve.

The USS Narcissus sank near Egmont Key in 1866 during a winter storm. The dedication of the preserve in 15 feet of water is expected to boost tourism and dive shops in Pinellas County.

More than two dozen crew members aboard the ship died. Nicole Morris, the researcher who has led the push for establishing the preserve, tells The Tampa Tribune (https://bit.ly/1emzGua ) that while the wreck was a disaster, it also has been a rebirth.

“This shipwreck site, yes it was a tragedy and we lost these men, but we now have this beautiful ecological environment that is home to juvenile fish of all kinds, corals and sponges and even goliath grouper,” Morris said.

The Narcissus, an 81-foot, 6-inch wooden tugboat built in Albany, N.Y., in 1863, was commissioned by the federal government to enforce the Union blockade of Southern ports during the Civil War.

The ship was hit by a torpedo in December 1864 and sank to the bottom of Mobile Bay, but the Navy raised the ship and towed it to Pensacola for repairs. After the Civil War, it was bound for New York to be decommissioned when it sank in a squall near Egmont Key.

Morris, who has been diving the Narcissus wreck since 2006, first submitted the application to dedicate the scattered wreckage as an archaeological preserve in 2011. She hopes to see the preserve officially established by the beginning of next year.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State said the only holdup is a permit under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It’s a crime to disturb a submerged shipwreck site, and violators face a possible felony charge. The benefits of opening up the Narcissus wreck to more of the public outweigh the risks of looting, Morris said.

“We are changing in the way we approach the public,” she said. “We educate them and create stewards, like the Friends of the Narcissus group. They go out and dive the site and monitor it, keeping track of artifacts that are exposed. We don’t want people going out there taking stuff off the site.”

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Information from: The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, https://www.tampatrib.com


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