Old Wrecks, ‘Black Reefs’

Invasive corallimorphs have colonised a modern shipwreck at Palmyra Atoll in the Line Islands. The corallimorphs have benefitted from a phase shift in the reef’s ecosystem brought on by the shipwreck’s iron components leaching into the water column. Image: Susan White/US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Invasive corallimorphs have colonised a modern shipwreck at Palmyra Atoll in the Line Islands. The corallimorphs have benefitted from a phase shift in the reef’s ecosystem brought on by the shipwreck’s iron components leaching into the water column. Image: Susan White/US Fish and Wildlife Service.

This past January, a collaborative research team comprising maritime archaeologists from the Silentworld Foundation and the museum conducted a shipwreck survey at Kenn Reefs in Australia’s Coral Sea Territory. The team relocated a number of historic shipwrecks documented by the Queensland Museum in the 1980s, as well as four new wreck sites. The Kenn Reefs complex is a seamount system located within the ‘Outer Route’, a seaway used by nineteenth-century mariners in an effort to avoid the Great Barrier Reef when travelling to and from Australia’s east coast. The discovery of multiple shipwreck sites of nineteenth-century vintage at Kenn Reefs demonstrates the hazards faced by mariners as they transited through waters that were insufficiently charted. Field investigations included reef-top inspections, metal detector and magnetometer surveys, and diver-based ground-truthing of observed features and buried anomalies.

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One last discovery : Kenn Reefs expedition, days 9 and 10

Pete Illidge measures the cannons at site KR12 while Renee Malliaros records information on an underwater slate. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Pete Illidge measures the cannons at site KR12 while Renee Malliaros records information on an underwater slate. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Flush with the exhilaration of discovering site KR12 and the ship’s bell, the team set to work the following morning (16 January) to document finds. John, Jacqui, Pete, Renee, Lee and Jules entered the water and conducted a baseline offset survey of the site, followed by detailed recording of the cannons and anchors. Jules then took close-up photographs of each anchor and cannon while Lee carried out a photogrammetric survey of these and other features, including the rudder hardware found in association with the bell. Continue reading

A ringing success: Kenn Reefs expedition, days 7 and 8

Lee Graham and his trusty tow-board. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Lee Graham and his trusty tow-board. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

While the dive team was busy documenting sites KR10 and KR11 on the morning and afternoon of 14 January, the magnetometer team took advantage of the calm weather and sea conditions to run a survey along the outside of the entire Kenn Reefs system. The first area surveyed was along the outside fringe of the ‘foot and ankle’, with specific emphasis placed on detecting offshore components of known shipwreck sites (such as KR1, KR2 and KR4). Because sea conditions were calm, the team also ‘deployed’ Lee on a tow-board behind the magnetometer.

The tow-board (also known as a ‘Manta-board’) is a flat, hydrodynamic-shaped board with handles that is connected to a towing vessel with a length of line. The person using the tow-board grips the handles, is pulled through the water at low speed, and can visually search the seabed for shipwreck material. Most tow-boards are designed so that their users can turn, dive and ascend through the water column at will, simply by changing its orientation with the handles. Lee was positioned 10 metres behind the magnetometer in the hope he might be able to visually spot and identify any anomalies it detected.

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Finding ‘Hope’ with a magnetometer: Kenn Reefs expedition, days 6 and 7

Pete Illidge and Renee Malliaros prove that site mapping and synchronised swimming are not mutually exclusive tasks. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Pete Illidge and Renee Malliaros prove that site mapping and synchronised swimming are not mutually exclusive tasks. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

One of the major goals of the Kenn Reefs expedition was to find Hope, the small cutter built from material salvaged from Bona Vista, and later lost during the rescue of the brig’s crew. According to historical accounts, two boats were sent from the rescuing vessel (the ship Asia) to Observatory Cay, where they recovered most of Bona Vista’s crew, the brig’s allocation of specie (gold and silver coin brought aboard Bona Vista for trading purposes), and brought them aboard Asia. A skeleton crew of thirteen and the personal belongings of all of the brig’s officers and men remained aboard Hope, as did unspecified salvaged goods valued at £1,000. However, as Asia got underway and took Hope under tow, tragedy struck:

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Kenn Reefs expedition, day four (continued) and day five

Silentworld Foundation CEO and project team leader John Mullen uses a metal detector to search for artefacts in shallows off Observatory Cay, while Jacqui Mullen (background) documents a find. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Silentworld Foundation CEO and project team leader John Mullen uses a metal detector to search for artefacts in shallows off Observatory Cay, while Jacqui Mullen (background) documents a find. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

While the magnetometer crew conducted its initial search west of Observatory Cay, a second team embarked upon a metal detector survey of the cay itself and searched for evidence of survivor camps associated with the wrecked vessels Bona Vista and Jenny Lind.

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Ashmore Reef Expedition 2015 – Part Three

The first task today was to buoy the major features of the site including the two anchor clusters, the iron carronades and the various grouping of iron knees and riders and then plot the positions of these features onto a site plan with the help of a GPS.
Once that task was completed additional teams of divers — led by archaeologists Paul Hundley (Silentworld Foundation) and Peter Illich (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) — entered the water to assess, measure and then record the features. At the same time the photographic team — led by Xanthe Rivett (Silentworld Foundation) and assisted by Grant Luckman (Department of the Environment) recorded the artefact assessment and survey work and supplemented the survey teams records by taking photographic close ups of various distinctive features, such as the anchor chain, anchor rings, carronade muzzles, touch holes and slides.

Paul Hundley and Jacqui Mullen from the Silentworld Foundation recording the large Pering anchors

Paul Hundley and Jacqui Mullen from the Silentworld Foundation recording the large Pering anchors. Photo courtesy Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 1-3 April

Monday 1 April 2013

April Fool’s Day – The wind has been steadily increasing overnight and some of the team – including Frits and Lee – have abandoned Hellraiser 2 to seek more comfortable berths on board the much larger SWII which does not bounce around so much in the increasing swell.

Plans for the day are much the same as yesterday, with the exception that the team will be joined by Steve and Sparra in Hellraiser 2 which – because we are operating more than eight miles away from the main vessel SWII – will act as a temporary rest stop for the teams working out of the smaller dive tenders.

Four teams on and in the water today – Frits and John ‘magging’ in Maggie; Gil, Greg, Lee and Freddy diving anomalies in Caribe; Xanthe, Jacqui, Andrew, Rick, Glen and I ‘magging’ and diving in the Hydro-sport; and Sparra, Steve and Grant on Hellraiser 2.

Kieran magging with Forbes Island in background.

Kieran magging with Forbes Island in background.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 30 and 31 March

Saturday 30 March 2013

Woke up this morning to a very empty anchorage at the back of Ferguson Reef – with Silentworld II (SWII) and the Hydro-sport dive tender having left for Portland Roads at 0330 this morning – leaving a much reduced crew (Xanthe, Andrew, Grant, Freddy and I) on board Hellraiser 2 to check out the last remaining anomalies and take the last measurements before cleaning up the site and sailing westward to meet the larger team at Eel Reef, and hopefully the wreck of the Indian-built opium clipper Morning Star wrecked three miles south west of Quoin Island in 1814.

With a much smaller team to get ready we got to the outer edge of Ferguson Reef and the wrecksite of the Ferguson in plenty of time for the high water slack.

Xanthe, Grant and Andrew from the Silentworld Foundation and I jumped in just to the seaward of the ‘picked in’ anchor and allowed the last few minutes of the floodtide to carry us in over the reef top and along the stud link anchor chain which runs back over the top of the reef for some 200 metres before ending amongst flat plate and staghorn coral.

Kieran underwater looking at anchor chain

Kieran inspecting the anchor chain.

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 28 and 29 March

Thursday 28 March

After a somewhat late night for the expedition team members and crew who had been waiting for the arrival of Hellraiser 2, the team members got together early the next morning to discuss the practicalities of working the ‘end of flood tide’ on the wrecksite so Xanthe could get a complete photomosaic of the site.

We decided to send a small team of divers, including Xanthe, Greg, Gil and Andrew, over to the site just before the ‘end of flood’ at 0700 so that Xanthe would have enough water depth to complete the photomosaic. Just in case, Freddy and Kieran would act as stand-by divers so that the in-water divers could be pulled out of the water if the ebb-tide came in earlier than expected.

Luckily conditions on site were perfect with the strong south-easterly (wind) holding up the ebbing tide long enough for the photomosaic to be completed without incident.

In the afternoon we planned for Frits and John to mag the northern part of the lagoon, have Andrew and Grant record the features of the carronades (cannon) on site, have Gil and Greg record the dimensions of all the various bits on the anchor chain, and Jacqui and I would record the knee and bilge pump dimensions. Unfortunately and unexpectedly the tides refused to cooperate – although for the last couple of days, the tides were behaving relatively normally with gaps of approximately 6 hours between High and Low tide – today the ebb tide was more prolonged, possible due to the effect of the New Moon. This meant the dive tender and Maggie (the shallow drafted magnetometer boat) were unable to get over the western edge of the reef and onto the wreck site.

After waiting for three hours – and noticing no discernible difference in the level of the water over the reef – the team called the dive and returned to Silentworld II.

Photo of Kieran and two of the crew on boat with seagul

We made a friend at sea!

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Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – Monday 25 March

Over the last few days the weather conditions on site have started to deteriorate as as the effects of a new monsoonal trough comes into play.

Photo of

Peter Illidge with charts.

With a substantial surf breaking over the southern and eastern edges of Ferguson Reef and with limited space in the boats we decided to send only single teams of snorkelers onto the reef-top searching for the magnetometer hits that John and Frits had detected on the previous day. Continue reading

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Day 11

Sat, 14 Jan 2012
Saumarez Reef

The wind has moderated a bit this morning and the swell is calming down too… at least on the inside of the reef.  It is still too high to get out on the reef face.

We are on the search for the Woodlark, a Sydney merchant ship that struck on the shallow reef on the eastern side of Saumarez Reef in 1829. As it wrecked, it went up and over the reef into a shallow basin on the reef top.  We are going to approach the site from the inside and see if we can get close enough to search the basin while staying away for the pounding surf on the outside of the reef.

The last time anyone had been on the site was back in 1991.  At the time, Ron Coleman an archaeologist with the Queensland Museum was only able to spend about three hours doing a quick survey.  At least we have a GPS location from that visit which will make our work a lot easier.

Time to find the Woodlark!  We loaded the boats mid-morning.  We have two manta board teams and a snorkel team.  One of the manta board teams will be working from the basin out to the east as far as a prominent rock outcrop.  Supposedly nine survivors from the Woodlark scrambled onto this rock and stayed on it for three days. 

View of reef below the surface of the water

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

The other manta board team will work from the rock further east, out towards the surf break.  The snorkel team is going to work in and around the basin.

At the mid-day debrief the teams reported that we had relocated a number of features mapped by the Coleman team in 1991, including a pair of iron knees and the anchor chain running into the basin. We may have also located some new iron strapping between the rock and the basin.  And the snorkel team located some new anchor chain in the basin.  A small fragment of copper sheathing was the only small artefact to be seen, found close to the anchor chain in the basin.

Anchor chain

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

After lunch three scuba teams went back out on the reef.  Two teams divided the basin in half along the east/west axis.  One team worked in the southern half and the other in the northern half of the basin. The two teams conducted a metal detector survey to locate iron objects below the surface and buried in the coral sand sediment.  The third team which included our photographer, roved over the entire site taking photographs and conducting a visual survey of the area for material visible on the reef top.

There was a strong current running from the east to the west, partially caused by the rising tide, but also pushed along by the still strong easterly winds. Hopefully the weather will moderate further tomorrow.  With good wind and waves we should be able to wrap this site up in one more day. 

Tomorrow we are also expecting our re-supply vessel to arrive in the afternoon.

Sting ray on reef

Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

 Paul Hundley  (Sr. Curator and archaeologist)

Frederick Reef Archaeological Survey – Congrats!

Before a change of subject – as the archaeological team share their experiences from Saumarez Reef in search of the Woodlark and Noumea shipwrecks – we’d like to reflect on the survey at Frederick Reef.

The search for shipwreck Royal Charlotte has been a great success, but we have to admit, we’ve held back on a few details (sorry!). We can now confirm that the team have found the anchor and canon from the Royal Charlotte!  Everyone at the museum is excited about the finds and sends their congratulations to the dive team.

Below are some images of the anchor and canon, part of the Royal Charlotte wreck of 1825.

Scuba diver with anchor from Royal Charlotte shipwreck

The anchor! Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Scuba divers measuring anchor

Measuring the anchor. Photographer: Xanthe Rivett

Detail of canon from shipwreck Royal Charlotte

The canon. Where’s Wally? Spot the little fish in the photo.