Wreck Reef Expedition… swim-line searching and a sea snake

This morning greeted us with much the same weather conditions as yesterday – quite windy and choppy but lovely and warm. Today’s teams were broken down into much the same as yesterday’s with two snorkel swim-line teams, one Porpoise Cay team (terrestrial) and one fish team (biologists). This morning I had the opportunity to be part of one of the snorkel swim-line teams. The visibility was amazing with at least 50 meters visibility and lots of fish all colours of the rainbow. The first five minutes of the snorkel I saw two stingrays gliding past and a moray eel.

Our main objective for the morning’s snorkel was to do a swim-line search looking for shipwreck material on the Northern side of Porpoise Cay. Our aim was to drop a weighted buoy next to the material so that at a later stage we could go back and do detailed recordings and take photographs. This morning’s tide was high and the current was strong and we decided to go with the current rather than fight against it. Because the current was so strong we initially had problems with trying to maintain eye contact with the wreck material while at the same time trying to signal Freddy (our excellent tender operator) to hand us our weighted buoy. We solved this problem by giving Freddy the GPS and when we discovered something he would wiz over and GPS the find spot for us. This worked really well. Within the first five minutes of the snorkel Jen McKinnon located a copper drift pin. Two minutes after that I located an iron fastener. All items were recorded in the GPS by Freddy. In addition to this our swim team found two huge lumps of coal and three different bits of copper sheathing.

This morning on our second snorkel swim-line search I encountered a sea snake (large!). Unfortunately these are very poisonous AND rather curious creatures. They have no problem with encountering humans and wrapping around legs, arms or necks. Yuck!  I had one following me for a while which scared the living day lights out of me. As a little experiment I headed over to Jen McKinnon (my supervisor for my Masters of Research) to see if it would follow me. Which it didn’t thank goodness! However, Jen now likes to tell everyone on board the Nimrod that I pushed her in front of the snake. I would like to take this opportunity to say that this is in fact not true and I did NOT push her in front of a very poisonous snake! Despite the blatant lie, it has got a few laughs out of the team much to my embarrassment.

After our most excellent lunch (barbequed salmon steaks, salmon quiche, ham quiche, pineapple salad, confetti rice, and fresh tropical fruit) we headed back out to the northern side of Porpoise Cay to re-locate our finds by GPS and drop weighted buoys on them. We also recovered a huge piece of coal to take back to Sydney for testing and further analysis.

After this we decided to test out the Australian National Maritime Museum’s manta board. This is an oblong board with handles on the side and a handle in the centre.  It is attached by rope to a tender. The idea is that the tender pulls you along allowing you to see artefacts at a faster rate than snorkelling or diving. Once you spot something of interest the board allows you to dive down by flicking the board forward with your wrists. You can then pull up and the board will allow you to come up for a breath of air. Thus allowing you to cover an area more effectively and quickly and is super fun!

We headed back to Nimrod at about 4.45 pm exhausted and ecstatic that we had located shipwreck material. Now I wait in anticipation for another truly fantastic dinner, the sharing of great stories by many fabulous maritime archaeologists and the rising of the sun to do it all again!!

Contributed by Toni Massey, Flinders University Masters student.