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Marine Archaeology Volunteers at CINP


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Posted by Jim on April 30, 2010 at 08:28:47:

A dedicated group of volunteer scuba divers employ their expertise surveying underwater archeology in the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary.

Coastal Maritime Archeology Resources members spend about a week living aboard research vessels twice a year, to measure and map shipwrecks, sunken airplanes and archeological sites scattered on the ocean floor.

CMAR Director of Operations Patrick Smith says there’s nothing quite like seeing a shipwreck for the first time. “It’s indescribable. There’s excitement, maybe a little bit of trepidation,” says Smith. “There’s that wonderful feeling of breaching the unknown. There’s the anticipation of seeing something that nobody has seen for scores of years, or maybe hundreds of years.”

Smith says diving on shipwrecks evokes thoughts about the people who sailed on the historic vessels and sometimes perished aboard them. “Each shipwreck is unique. They are a snapshot of that period of time, and they become a time capsule of that period of time,” says Smith. “A shipwreck goes down, and it freezes that moment. It freezes all aspects of the human environment. What the people were eating and wearing. You can tell what their technology was.

It’s just a wonderful snapshot of history and humanity.”

Channel Islands National Park Archeologist Kelly Minas says there’s a treasure-trove of sunken history off the local coastline. Chumash Indians started navigating the channel around 13,000 years ago, and there are many artifacts from more recent maritime tradition, starting with Spanish exploration. “There’s been a variety of activities from commercial fishing to military activities, recreational activities; and what has resulted from that in terms of the archeological remains of shipwrecks is the entire evolution of marine technology,” says Minas.

One of the best-known shipwrecks is the gold rush era steamer Winfield Scott off Anacapa Island, which ran aground on its way from San Francisco to Panama during 1853. “There was a lot of human drama involved with it,” says Minas. “People were stranded out on the island. There’s been a lot of interest in the shipwreck, both for salvage purposes in the past and the fact that it carried a large amount of gold bullion from the gold fields of California.”

Minas says they found a new shipwreck last year, believed to be a prohibition era rum runner, and they also monitor two World War II era torpedo bomber airplanes. Many more artifacts may eventually emerge from the shifting sand on the ocean floor.

CMAR members also search for submerged quarry sites used by Chumash Indians when sea levels were much lower. “We know that the sea levels rose dramatically over the last 10,000 years. A lot of the older prehistoric sites are likely inundated, and we’re starting to look for them,” says Minas.

Members of CMAR are highly experienced divers and come from as far away as Florida, Michigan and Washington State. Minas says they could never get so much accomplished without their hard work and dedication. “The park benefits because they’re able to put more people in the water, particularly now with budgets so tight,” says Minas.

During the voyages, they dive about five times a day and spend the rest of their time working on research, eating and sleeping. “It’s very rigorous,” says Minas. “This is not recreational diving by any stretch of the imagination.”

Many other rewarding volunteer opportunities are available at Channel Islands National Park. Last year more than 1,400 volunteers donated about 80,500 hours leading hikes, restoring habitat and helping out at the visitor’s center.

People who want to get involved can fill out an online application at www.nps.gov.

outdoors@vcreporter.com




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