Florida Keys

Irma's winds did something good. They opened a new view of a long-ago Keys shipwreck.

Researchers at Molasses Reef off Key Largo are documenting changes to the "Slobodna" shipwreck site, on the ocean floor, caused by Hurricane Irma. Recreational divers to the popular site are urged to avoid becoming entangled in the lines suspended between tripods.
Researchers at Molasses Reef off Key Largo are documenting changes to the "Slobodna" shipwreck site, on the ocean floor, caused by Hurricane Irma. Recreational divers to the popular site are urged to avoid becoming entangled in the lines suspended between tripods.

Marine archaeologists believe Hurricane Irma lifted the sand veil on more of the Slobodna shipwreck that lies on the ocean floor on the popular diving and snorkeling spot, Molasses Reef, off Key Largo.

Divers with the National Marine Sanctuary, part of the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and volunteer archaeologists with the Tennessee-based nonprofit Diving With a Purpose are surveying the newly found portion of what they believe is part of the ship, which sank on the reef in 1887.

The Austrian vessel was hauling cotton from New Orleans to Estonia in northern Europe, said Gena Parsons, outreach manager for the Florida Marine Sanctuary.

Powerful currents from the Category 4 Irma in September removed sand rock and exposed the wreckage, Parsons said.

While the site is being studied, Sanctuary officials are asking divers and snorkelers to "avoid the mapping baseline suspended by two tripods."

The newfound wreckage resembles railroad tracks, but Brenda Altmeier, maritime historical coordinator with the Sanctuary, said it is part of the framework for the Slobdodna, which was a sailing vessel with an iron frame covered by wood.

"It's a ship," Altmeier said Thursday. "It's not part of any railroad."

Diving With a Purpose, which aims to preserve historical wrecks, donated 33 divers to the Slobodna.

The goal of the mission, Altmeier said, is to "create a more definitive site map that's ever been done before."

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