Monday, June 6, 2011

Imagine a world where before every dive the captain states: Don’t take anything from the wreck, or don’t get back on my boat.  Thus is the dream of HADS.  The acronym stands for Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar, a program developed by Della Scott-Ireton and Debra Shefi five years ago. The program aims to provide PADI, NAUI, and SSI dive instructors will all the information, tools, and resources to teach heritage awareness as a specialty course.

Amber and Sarah suited up for submerged resources.

Class in session at Marathon Garden Club.
Class time focused on sea faring culture and how shipwrecks observed by archaeologists underwater translates to how people lived and met their basic needs in the past. After appreciation for wrecks as non-renewable cultural resources was established, the course continued along currents of preservation law, conservation, and heritage tourism themes. The day ended with a briefing of the practicum component of the course: diving on shipwrecks!

HADS graduates ready to hit the water!
The next day we visited two wrecks: the nineteenth-century Brick Wreck and seventeenth-century Mystery Wreck. Both wrecks are located within NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and have been previously recorded as submerged archaeological sites.
First up was the Brick Wreck at 14 ft.   This wreck may have been used for cargo transport in the mid nineteenth-century, possibly even taking bricks to Fort Jefferson.  The site itself appeard dim green with particulate matter. This might sound less than ideal, but coming from St. Augustine the visibility (aka viz) was OUTSTANDING!!! I could see! Hands, feet, and sand! I adjusted my breathing to control buoyancy and struck out my limbs like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. My buddies, Chuck and Amber, floated until we hovered over the wreck. We could see planking and frames and followed the contours up and down the side.
Planview of the Brick Wreck.

Dr. Della gives briefing before we take our giant stride.
Lobster greets us under planking and frames of the wreck.

Jeff holds white stoneware sherd, fits ca. 1830s date of wreck.

Being the first shipwreck I could see I was surprised by the crowd of people.  In all 23 class participants surrounded the site and tried to organize to not collide underwater.  Irina Sorset looked like a veteran, cool sea cucumber by viewing the site.  She faced the site without kicking up the sea floor (or kicking another diver in the face!).   Another veteran underwater was Brenda Altmeier from NOAA who recorded coral and made notes on condition of the site. I floated over to Jeff Moates who observed a white stoneware bowl fragment and thin glass.

Before moving on I want to make a point about site preservation.  The Brick Wreck is disappearing as parts of the site have been removed either by people or natural causes. Case in point, the night before we dined at a restaurant with a wall made out of brick from the site. What salvagers might not have known is that the ballast and brick coverage actually protected the site timbers. Without the cover the timbers are rapidly disappearing and soon there will be nothing left of the site. We observed only one intact brick on the wreck, there used to be thousands!  For more, read the site report

Wall at Sea Colony restaurant make from bricks off our wreck.

We got back in the boat for a 10 minute ride to our second site, the Mystery Wreck. Once in the water we saw an immediate difference. The water was clearer, bluer, and the marine life flourished. Brain coral, sea fans, and fire coral (don’t touch!) greeted us on the sea floor. The Mystery Wreck looked completely different. Treasure salvagers had cut into the side of the wreck, rather than cutting down from top to bottom, which left channels of exposed frames and sea floor underneath heaps and heaps of ballast. We saw whole timbers and iron fasteners in situ in the spaces between the cement. Vertical iron bolts indicated where timbers once existed.

View of granel, cement ballast between boards.

Della shared her experiences from recording the site with Deb. Significantly, the Mystery Wreck featured cement, called granel, between frames.  The mixture poured directly into the cavity between the bottom and ceiling planking served as permanent ballast between the boards. This technique was used by the Spanish during the 17th century and then again in modern times with modern cement. Other 17th-century shipwrecks that feature granel icnlude the Atocha and the Santa Rosa Island wreck in the Pensacola.  Good eye Deb and Della! 

Fire coral.

Scleroscopy, or dating of coral, was done here to help date the site.

Brenda Altmeie of NOAA counts coral.
I could not accept Chuck's sign to surface. The 41 minutes at 23 feet went too fast.
My overall summation of HADS: I’m embarrassed I hadn’t done it sooner. So many questions over the last few years I could have answered better.  For example, last week the VandenburgAtocha, and sunken airplanes all came up. I can now talk more intelligently about artificial reefs like Spiegel Grove, about the Keys Marine Sanctuary, and dive culture thanks to HADS.  It certainly made me more passionate about these sites and stoked a desire to learn more.

The next HADS is being offered in St. Petersburg September 15 and 16th.  For more information on HADS contact us at or Dr Della Scott-Ireton,

Frank and Shirley, the Hendersons, grey Angel Fish

Another Keys treasure, ground owls.
FPAN covers Florida, from Nassau and Escambia county tips to Monroe County tail!
Special thanks to Della Scott-Ireton and Jeff Moates for planning HADS and to Irina Sorset, Franklin Price, and Brenda Altmeier from NOAA.  Special thanks to Chuck Meide for again keeping me alive underwater as dive instructor extraordinaire and congratulations to Amber on her final check dive!   

Text: Sarah Miller
Photo credits: Sarah Miller, Amber Grafft-Weiss and Chuck Meide

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