What are the Totten Beacons?

Beacon pile in proximity to American Shoal lighthouse, completed 1880. Photo credit: M. Lawrence.

The rusty remnants of a Totten Beacon (foreground) situated close to American Shoal lighthouse. Photograph credit score: M. Lawrence.


Main beacon pile centered among three significantly shorter support posts. Photo credit: M. Lawrence.

Predominant beacon pile centered amongst three considerably shorter help posts. Photograph credit score: M. Lawrence.


In 1513, Spanish explorer Ponce de León sailed into the robust currents of the Florida Straits. Little did he know that inside a couple of years, these uncharted waters, which feed into the Gulf Stream, would change into a serious worldwide transport path to and from Europe and the New World.

As Europeans explored and colonized the Americas, they took benefit of the Florida Straits’ winds and currents. The winds modified course typically, nonetheless, simply pounding numerous vessels in opposition to miles of treacherous submerged coral reefs off the southern Florida coast.

By 1852, Lieutenant James Totten, the U.S. Military’s assistant to the Coast Survey, had put in 15 wood sign poles within the reefs to create extra correct charts of the Florida Keys. Native mariners shortly acknowledged that the poles themselves helped them safely navigate the reefs, and by 1855, Totten and his staff put in a second era of 16 poles utilizing a extra everlasting materials—iron. The “beacons” every displayed a letter, beginning with “A” and ending with “P.” Right this moment, remnants of Totten Beacons are protected as historic sources by the Florida Keys Nationwide Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS).

Right this moment, GPS and complicated digital navigation methods together with lighted navigational aids, buoys, radar beacons, and different visible aids maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard assist warn mariners of harmful coral reefs and shoals. FKNMS installs and maintains greater than 700 buoys for useful resource administration functions. Mooring buoys, that are spherical with a blue stripe, make it attainable for a vessel to linger on a reef with out utilizing an anchor and doubtlessly damaging fragile marine sources. Spherical yellow regulatory buoys within the sanctuary mark areas which have particular laws, whereas cylindrical white buoys delineate particular zones.

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