Blackbeard's Hidden Treasure
The sea never sits still long enough for you to take her vital statistics. You have to do it on the fly, and when opportunity knocks, marine scientists have to
be ready to fling the door open. For Institute of Marine Sciences Director John
Wells and his colleague, Aycock Professor
Chris Martens, the discovery of a pirate ship
in their back yard presented one such
A private company looking for treasure last
year discovered the wreck of what's believed
to be the Queen Anne's Revenge, the flagship
of Blackbeard the pirate, just a mile and a half
off Beaufort Inlet, which is Morehead City'S
gateway to the ocean. When they determined
there were no recoverable riches, the dis-
coverers left the wreck to the state Division
of Archives and History for historical salvage.
Beaufort is one of the biggest, most active
inlets on the coast, and it offers a terrific nat-
ural laboratory for studying wave direction,
water temperature, salinity, rise and fall of
tides, and motion of the currents-all the
dynamics of the places where water rushes in
and out of the breaks in the barrier islands.
The problem with inlets is the heavy traffic in commercial and pleasure
trawlers: Any measuring devices dropped into the ocean almost inevitably get
damaged, moved, even stolen by fishers. And the IMS can afford just so many of the
$30,000, basketball-sized monitors that will take all those measurements, twice
every second, and feed them into a computer.
Blackbeard unWittingly gave Wells and Martens the break they needed. During
the research period on the wreck, which may last another year or more, boats
are banned from the area- commercial fishers are supposed to heed notices to
avoid the area around the wreck, and any pleasure boat that pauses too long in
the area could get a visit from authorities who are monitoring it via satellite. So
the IMS researchers have relatively undisturbed waters to fish for data.
"This is a real basic problem with measuring these things off the North Carolina
coast," Wells said. "So we now have a protected site, for the first time ever."
Wells and Martens also are taking sediment cores around the wreck that could
yield a history of the inlet's movement and the buildup/erosion of the barrier
islands on either side. How, for instance, was a shipwreck now in 25 feet of water
in a heavily traveled area able to hide from 1718 to 1997?
"We're reconstructing the last 300 years of geologic change in this area," Wells
said. And it's more or less a hobby. "We don't do shipwrecks. We're more into
hard science, and they're [the state] into archeological type work. This brings
two interesting disciplines together."
John Wells and Chris Martens check out
the wave tank at the Institute of Marine
Sciences. Wells and Martens are using the
protected area around a shipwreck ,
believed to be Blackbeard's flagShip, to
study Beaufort Inlet.
- David E. Brown ' 75
problems in humans, but we don't see a
significant widespread health threat."
Continued research begins right down
the hall from Roper's office. David
Savitz, chair of the epidemiology depart-
ment in the School of Public Health, is
in charge of a study of about 150 people
who work in the state's estuarine waters.
His team will perfoml detailed medical
and neuropsychological studies of the
people involved and will talk with them
every two weeks for two years. For com-
parison, the group also will study people
who work in non-threatened waters such
as the ocean.
Summertime blues, 1998
News item, The News & Observer, July 28:
"Tens if thousands if dead menhaden lit-
tered six miles of the pollution-plagued lower
Neuse River on Monday, marking the first
major coastal fish kill this year.
((Scientists predicted this spring that fish
would s~iffer from the sewage and other pollu-
N ove m be r D ec embe r 1 998