News Column

Seminar to Unearth Shipwreck Secrets

May 24, 2012

Kevin Wadlow

Two shipwreck sites off Duck Key, Fla., serve as a wet classroom for a seminar this week in preserving Florida's underwater heritage.

Florida Public Archaeology Network staff will point out stark differences between the two sites: One mostly intact and blended into the marine environment, the other severely disturbed by souvenir scavengers.

"Every time we go out to the Brick Wreck, there is a little bit less of the shipwreck left," said Della Scott-Ireton, a regional director for the archaeology network based at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. "It's a shallow wreck, in about 12 feet, so people snorkel it and take pieces from it," Scott-Ireton said Monday. "This is what happens when people take more than photos."

"We're trying to get the point across that shipwreck sites are part of our underwater cultural heritage, and part of the marine environment."

"Every time somebody takes a piece home, it not only damages an historic site but destroys somebody's home," she said. "Marine creatures live on all these sites in a very symbiotic relationship."

The two-day Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar on May 24 and 25 attracts scuba instructors from much of the country, certifying them to teach a diving specialty course in heritage awareness. Three of the top dive-certification agencies -- PADI, NAUI and SSI -- recognize the course.

The Florida Public Archaeology Network works in partnership with the state Division of Historic Resources to promote awareness and protection of the state's many historic sites, beneath the sea and on land.

Diving seminars are held twice annually, with the Dive Duck Key dive shop, 61 Hawks Cay Blvd., hosting the Keys spring session for four years. "The water is warm and clear, and the dive sites are close," Scott-Ireton said. "A lot of our folks manage to squeeze in an extra dive or two while they're here."

The Brick Wreck is named after the cargo of a 19th Century vessel that went down, probably while carrying building material to Fort Jefferson or the Martello Towers in Key West, Scott-Ireton said.

Remains of the Mystery Wreck, a documented Spanish fleet vessel that may date to 1600s, lies on a patch reef along Hawk Channel, inshore of the main reef line.

"It's a neat little site in about 8 to 20 feet of water, an area where not a lot of people dive," Scott-Ireton said. "Treasure divers picked at it in the 1970s but they lost interest pretty quickly when they realized it wasn't the type of ship that carried treasure."

The seminar includes briefings on historic ship construction, what can be learned from shipwreck remains, laws protecting cultural resources, and ways to teach the specialty class to recreational divers. For information on future events, go to

Source: (c) 2012 the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.)

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