sea

  • Climate Change & Underwater Cultural Heritage

    We are back from hiatus!! Thanks for hanging in there with us through our travels! This summer will have a lot more travels in store for our “Global ArchaeoVenturers” Series! – Stay tuned for the rest of Season 3 & more ‘in the field’ footage!
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    No matter which camp you side with in the ‘Climate Change’ discussion, its effects cannot be denied.period. Polar vortexes, massive flooding, snow in deserts, excessive drought, etc… we’ve all been privy to it the last few years no matter where we are in this world, in the extreme, and whether it happens sooner or later, these changes will continue unchecked. However, without getting into said debate, this blog & episode is about how climate change is not just affecting our atmospheres, oceans, and seas, but as a byproduct- our submerged heritage as well. If you’re a maritime archaeologist, a scuba diver, someone fascinated by shipwrecks or just someone interested in the past- this means you should be concerned for all of the knowledge that could potentially be lost because of climate change affecting the preservation and ability to document submerged sites.

    The author diving on a WWII shipwreck in Santorini

    The problem with underwater heritage is that it is by definition, underwater, meaning that many times these sites are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for even those already concerned with cultural heritage protection. Because of a desperate need for awareness and additional protection even within our own sector, UNESCO had to expand upon the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property by creating a completely separate (and needed) Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in 2001. Heritage managers are already fighting great odds to protect submerged sites, and now climate change is complicating that fight even more because the answers aren’t clear and the solutions may not even be feasible.

    As Katie (The Digger) asks in this episode, how can things like rising sea levels make a difference for a site that is already underwater? Well rising sea levels create two problems- 1. sites that are not yet submerged, but may soon be. Even with the right protection, many of these sites are location specific and whole settlements that cannot be moved – Jamestown V.A.- the site of the first English settlement in America or the Statue of Liberty in NYC, amongst others, are predicted to be underwater within another 100 years! What can be done to prevent this? If people would cut their carbon emissions, it could slow down the rate of these predictions of sea level and temperature rises. 2. For sites already underwater, as discussed in the episode (all other environmental factors aside), a rise in water level on sites significantly reduces the amount of time that divers/maritime archaeologists can spend on the site. This might not seem like as big of a deal, but when you take into consideration how costly an underwater archaeological excavation already is, then if the time spent on a site continues to reduce, a full study could take years longer. English Heritage archaeologist Mark Dunkley describes “the effect of sea level rise on archaeological diving projects will be to incrementally reduce the amount of time (and therefore productivity) an air-breathing diver can spend underwater safely. For example, a 20% increase in diving depth can result in a 32% decrease in dive time.” Not to forget that the deeper a site gets, the more expensive high tech equipment will be needed for proper documentation.

    Teredo navalis (shipworm type) in wood

    If you refer to an earlier blog “Forgotten Legacy of WWII Wrecks- Environmental Hazard or Underwater Cultural Heritage?” you’ll recall why the scientific world is also concerned because “shipwrecks, ocean acidification and waste dumping into oceans are among the biggest sources of ocean pollution. Some 75% of sunken wrecks date back to the Second World War; their metal structures are therefore ageing and the plates deteriorating, threatening to release their contents into the ocean under the effect of corrosion. The North Atlantic Ocean has 25% of the potentially polluting wrecks in the world, which can contain up to 38% of the total volume of oil trapped in sunken vessels” says the Council of Europe in 2012.Other impacts of climate change on marine environments include increased seawater temperatures, ocean acidification and changes in ocean circulation which will also affect underwater cultural heritage. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses underwater WWII shipwrecks in North Carolina to monitor changes in the marine ecosystems that these ships support as the waters warm up. “North Carolina’s marine communities are made up of a mixture of temperate and tropical species, due to the states’ geographic location in a transition zone between north and south.” So far, they have seen an increase in tropical animals off N.C. as well as tropical algae species never before seen in the area. Invasive species like the notoriousshipworm (which is actually a mollusk) which has a penchant for boring into and living in submerged wooden structures, are spreading from their native habitats and thriving in the warming seas. As far north as the U.K. Dunkley points out that the blacktip shipworm has now become active all-year round on unprotected shipwrecks because of sea temperature increase. A report on shipworm invasions in the Baltic Sea by David Gregory for UNESCO illustrates that these dangers to wooden vessels have spread possibly beyond repair in an environment once conducive to pristine wreck preservation, specifically because of the absence of marine borers. These species are an ever-growing major threat to wooden wrecks and structures.
    These numbers are meant to be intimidating. Humanity is so concerned (and rightfully so) with losing our cultural heritage through force and violence, like in the cases with ISIS going on right now, but what happens when we sit by and do nothing, knowing the effects of climate change today on the future of submerged sites? Will we be mournful for the unknown knowledge or the lives left unremembered on the bottom of the sea because we didn’t get out acts together in time before the information was lost? We must make more strides to understand the impacts/effects of climate change and create ocean management strategies that incorporate cultural heritage, for it is necessary to help us manage the maritime historic environment for future generations.
    Watch this week’s accompanying episode entitled “How Does Climate Change Affect Shipwrecks?” HERE or visit youtube.com/ArchaeoVenturers
  • Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Vietnam: Chapter Four

    “We come to it at last, the great battle of our time.” – Gandalf the White

    I’m hoping that most of you just read that line in Ian McKellan’s voice but regardless, we do come to the end of the first installment of the “Global ArchaeoVentures” series. At this point, my travel companions have expanded to include 4 additional people for our beginning adventures in Vietnam!

    Vietnam started off slow as our journey out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia turned from an anticipated 4 hour journey into a delayed 6 hour journey, resulting in our missing the one(!) afternoon ferry from Ha Tien (a border town in Vietnam), thus having to spend Christmas Eve in an unplanned location. When you’re with beloved friends, you can even make a $12/night hotel a special holiday experience (the iced coffee really does make a huge difference)! We did end up making the early ferry which is delightfully called the Superdong VI (FYI Vietnamese money is called Dong), to Phu Quoc Island in south Vietnam.

    Bus/Sardine Ride to Ha Tien from Phnom Penh

    The Fastest Speedboat in Southern Vietnam

    The Fastest Speedboat in Southern Vietnam

    Sweet Condensed Milk and Coffee w/ Glass of Ice

    Sweet Condensed Milk and Coffee w/ Glass of Ice

    Deck the Halls w/ Boughs of Holly

    Deck the Halls w/ Boughs of Holly


    The style of this video is less interview-esque and more of a footage montage, owing to the fact that Vietnam had more of a vacation-feel, whereas at Angkor, everywhere I looked my archaeological radar went crazy.  I think you’ll gather from the video what I thought was most apparent about this small island in the south, known for its tourism and pearl industries, which is that there is this sharp contrast between the rapidly growing infrastructure and a traditional Vietnamese landscape. If you watch the footage of us just riding the motorbikes around the island, you already see a marked difference between what Cambodia looked like on that original drive in from the capital to Siem Reap. But on Phu Quoc itself, which has a booming tourist industry, you can see the remnants of what old Phu Quoc looks like, and then you see the amazing amount of road building going on all across the island. When I went scuba diving (which you can see footage from at the end of the video), my dive buddy who worked with
    Rainbow Divers, told me that there had been a 50% increase in hotel and road building in the last year alone! I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but it isn’t hard to see in the roadside landscapes, with new half-built roads and lots the size of a supersize Walmart complex. The problem it seems, and I know that Katie and I are going to do a further in-depth ArchaeoVenturers #AVProject episode on it, is the lack of communication and awareness between the local people and those invested in the tourist industry. Nothing is more apparent then on the beaches all around the island- in front of the resorts, perfect white sand beaches, but step 25ft to either side of the resort beach, and the whole beachfront is covered in trash, to the point where it’s impossible to walk sometimes. I’ll leave this discussion to our planned episode, but it is noteworthy to point out that I heard one of the scuba instructors also say that the dive industry in Phu Quoc could be easily gone within 10-15 years because of the serious overfishing problem, dying coral reefs, and unparalleled trash buildup- and if the dive industry goes, a serious chunk of foreign tourism goes with it…

    Did I Mention Vacation?

    Did I Mention Vacation?

    Para-para-paradise

    Para-para-paradise

    Tranquility

    Tranquility

    You will also see in bits throughout the montage, is when we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, and visited the Cu Chi Tunnels outside town. I have to be honest here, I had very mixed feelings going into this and even more so on the other end. The Cu Chi Tunnels were an elaborate network of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong. These were used for hiding, living, and guerrilla warfare, which is unfathomable if you realize how small they actually are, and how they’ve been widened for tourists (I barely fit and I’m only 5’3″!). I didn’t add more of the footage beyond my going into the tunnels, which they let you do at the end of the tour after they let you fire AK-47s at a makeshift gun range, and I really could say it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I was in an archaeological tomb in Egypt (I also felt that way in the Catacombs in Paris). It was very scary to realize that people lived and died in those tunnels, but at the same time, the entire tour consisted of basically bragging rights about all the ways they managed to kill Americans during the war. Not making this a political statement, but I came out feeling very queasy and eager to depart for the nighttime bars in the backpacking district of Ho Chi Minh.

    Descending into the Cu Chi Tunnels

    Descending into the Cu Chi Tunnels

    Hideout Spot

    Hideout Spot

    Torture Traps Used During Vietnam War

    Torture Traps Used During Vietnam War

    Lastly, and I already mentioned it, but you’ll see some footage from my two scuba dives with Rainbow Divers on Phu Quoc in the northern part of the island. I am told there aren’t any shipwrecks close enough to dive on with tourists, so that was slightly disappointing but I find it hard to be somewhere now and not take the opportunity to dive. The visibility wasn’t up to what I am used to, having most of my dives in the FL keys (and I know, my friends in the Gulf will laugh at me) but what was most apparent again was the lack of significant sea life- that, and also somehow in 15ft of water, my GoPro bit the dust. I managed to salvage the memory card but what a devastating (and pathetic) end to an illustrious camera companion *bows head*…

    Bright and Early on Dive Boat!

    Bright and Early on Dive Boat!

    That Leisure Boat Life Though

    That Leisure Boat Life Though

    Cutting Sea Urchins for Scuba Lunch Break

    Cutting Sea Urchins for Scuba Lunch Break

    GoPro Rice Fail

    GoPro Rice Fail

    Check out An ArchaeoVenture to Vietnam: Chapter 4 on YouTube

    THANK YOU FOR STICKING AROUND FOR ALL FOUR CHAPTERS OF “An ArchaeoVenture to Southeast Asia” with me, The Diver of ArchaeoVenturers!

    WATCH AGAIN:
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 1 on YouTube
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 2 on YouTube
    An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia: Chapter 3 on YouTube

    THANKS FOR GETTING DIRTY WITH US!

     

    Leaving On a Jet Plane!

    Leaving On a Jet Plane!

    Grizzly Bears Are My Life- What?!

    Grizzly Bears Are My Life- What?!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Further Reading:

    CNNGo in Ho Chi Minh City: From secret wartime hideouts to vintage Vespas

    Hidden tunnels of the Vietnam War

  • Forgotten Legacy of WWII Wrecks- Environmental Hazard or Underwater Cultural Heritage?

    World War II was the bloodiest, deadliest and most destructive war in human history. The National WWII Museum puts battle deaths at 15 million, battle wounded at 25 million, and civilian deaths at 45 million- all unfathomable numbers to comprehend. Memories and reminders of that war are all around us, from politics to economies to cultural institutions and more. However, lying in wait on the bottom of the ocean floor are about 7800 wrecks that were involved in World War II, with 3800 of them in the Pacific Theater alone. Wrecks from WWII are significant because it was the first time where petroleum ships were specifically targeted for attack- some even say that America’s biggest contribution to winning the war was petroleum. Although oil pollution is the most noted risk from these vessels, it can also include threats from munitions, chemical wastes, radioactive materials and others. Damaging activities, both environmental and manmade, that can release these hazardous materials include dragging anchors over wrecks, dynamite fishing, shipwreck looting, more substantial/invasive archaeological methods, storms, earthquakes, and the list goes on. The amount of oil contained in these ships could be anywhere from 757 million to 6 billion gallons according to a 2005 assessment prepared by Environmental Research Consulting and others. (It should be noted that when the term ‘wreck’ is used here, it includes not only shipwrecks but also aircrafts and submarines.)

         The President of the Ocean Foundation, Mark Spalding, recently wrote a piece for National Geographic about the hazards of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) towards a healthy ocean environment. Many articles over the last two or three years have debated the issues around the potential for oil pollution from these UCH sites, as these are sites of cultural significance, and in many cases, grave sites. One of the more well known examples of oil pollution is the 1953 wreck SS Jacob Luckenbach, a supply freighter headed to Korea during the Korean War. Scientists were able to pinpoint the shipwreck after decades of questioning why sea life were being killed from oil spills with no apparent source. The cleanup from this wreck alone cost between $18-22 million. The USS Arizona, which has been leaking oil since it was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, is another prominent example where multidisciplinary teams are still working to solve the same catastrophic issue.
    A gun on the deck of the sunken U-166 German submarine
         There is much debate about how to go forward, despite the simplest solution being to pump out the oil before the tanks are destroyed. No one organization controls, let alone has the ability, to survey and intervene on every potentially threatening wreck in the Ocean- a feat that is nearly impossible at the present moment, even if every organization were to intervene. In 2013, NOAA, as part of their Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) project, released a report that narrowed down the estimated 20K vessels in US waters down to close to 600, of which they completed 87 individual assessments. This report contained several vessels from WWII, amongst others, and found that only 36 of those posed a significant oil pollution threat and 17 are recommended for further investigation. So if you look at the number 7800 wrecks vs 36 or even 600 wrecks, there is room for debate for how imminent the problem might actually be. Although, certainly no one is arguing that these threats shouldn’t be mitigated for the more hazardous wrecks. And yet, despite all the problems highlighted here, many of these vessels have become artificial reefs where sea life and algae thrive. Plans for solving this global crisis must include measures for minimal disturbance of the sea life and their habitats. Because these UCH sites are by definition ‘underwater’, interested parties must work even harder to keep the public and ruling agencies apprised of the problems, but also these wrecks’ importance to our humanity and history. Conservationists, environmentalists, archaeologists, and others must create mediation plans for the coming years when oil pollution and other, potentially worse issues, arise from these wrecks so that history doesn’t become catastrophe.
    USS Abraham Lincoln manning rails for USS Arizona