Florida Maritime Heritage Trail
Since 1987, the federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act grants title to historic shipwrecks and charges states with management responsibility. The Act recommended the establishment of underwater parks of shipwreck and the creation of interpretative materials to ensure public access. Florida responded to the Act by implementing the programme of Underwater Archaeological Preserves and developing the Florida Maritime Heritage Trail.
The Florida Maritime Heritage Trail is a collection of sites and places along the coast representing Florida’s strong ties to the sea over thousands of years. The trail is divided into six themes: coastal communities, coastal environments, coastal forts, lighthouses, historic ports and historic shipwrecks. The latter allows the public to explore the state’s shipwreck preserves, referred to as “museums in the sea”. Shipwrecks represent some sort of time capsules reflecting Florida’s maritime history.
Stretching from the Pandhandle to the Keys, the Florida Maritime Heritage Trail offers fifteen historic shipwrecks, most of them in shallow waters. The sites range in age and type from a colonial Spanish galleon – the Urca de Lima, victim of a hurricane in 1715 – to an American sailing ship which played an heroic role during the Spanish-American War – the City of Washington, a twin-masted steel vessel launched in 1887 and wrecked in 1917 – to a German yacht – the Benwood, sunk in 1942.
All these wrecks are interpreted especially for divers and snorkelers, through printed and electronic medias, interpretative literature and site markers. The Historic Shipwreck brochure features pictures, historical narratives, maps and information about how to visit the different sites. A special emphasis is put on public education about sites that are often fragile, with a motto directed at divers: “take only picture, leave only bubbles”.