Monday, September 12, 2005


Underwater Classroom Makes Waves


The East Carolinian
By Lisa DeVries
September 08, 2005

Students Dive for Shipwreck Conservation
If you think it's hard enough to wake up for school on a Monday morning, try doing it with sand in your underwear and a stingray that's a little too friendly.

A diverse group of 12 students, including three from ECU, traveled to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for two weeks to conduct an underwater class with the guidance and patronage of the Partnering Archaeology with Science and Technology Foundation.

Annalies Corbin, assistant professor of nautical archaeology in Maritime Studies and founder and director of PAST, and Sheli Smith, the PAST Foundation's director of operations, led the team of students to the Sanctuary's Shipwreck Trail. The Shipwreck Trail is a line of nine sunken ships in the Florida Keys that span three generations of shipbuilding: the oldest ship sunk in 1733 and the latest ship was sunk intentionally in 1987 to create a barrier reef.

"We chose the Marine Sanctuary because we like to work in marine protected areas, places where there are shipwrecks that have not yet been studied," said Corbin.

One of the team's goals was to identify and catalog 100 or so artifacts recovered from the Adelaide Baker, a timber carrying ship bound for Savannah that crashed into the Coffins Patches Reef in 1889.

Treasure hunters stole the artifacts in 1992, which has become an increasing problem for marine archaeologists. Fortunately, the items were later won in a court case by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and given to the PAST Foundation to study and identify for conservation. Taking objects from any of the sunken ships within the sanctuary is illegal, but Smith said it happens rather frequently.

When asked why the team didnot dive at the Adelaide Baker site Smith said, "There really isn't anything left. It is a popular dive site and likewise popular for treasure hunters."

The other focus of the class was to dive the Slobodna, a cotton bearing ship that sank in 1887 after colliding with the Molasses Reef. The site had been vastly understudied, so the students' goal was to create a comprehensive site map of the shipwreck and identify the ship parts. No artifacts were taken from the site.

"It was really interesting to see the expanse of sea floor the broken ship parts covered - it was about a mile long," said Stephanie Allen, a graduate student in the Maritime Studies program.
Students were also asked to brainstorm ideas about ways to exhibit their findings to the public. The maps and artifacts will be used for educational purposes, and plans are being made for museum and school exhibits across the country. The greatest importance of their findings is most assuredly its accessibility to the public.

The PAST Foundation is a nonprofit organization that combines history and archaeological research with educational community outreach. The foundation annually offers a number of field school opportunities in archaeological investigation for students and volunteers around the world. For more information on the PAST Foundation, go to


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?