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What nature preserves, man easily takes away

February 21st, 2011

What nature preserves, man easily takes away.

Gregory Stratton

              In Dr. Babits’ shipwreck archaeology class (HIST 3005), we recently covered the wrecks of the Hamilton and Scourge.  One of the presentations showed just how much modern man can destroy what a maritime environment at its best can preserve.  Both ships were stationed on the great lakes as part of the fledgling United States Navy during the war of 1812.  In a running battle with the British on August 8th 1813, a sudden squall enveloped both ships and capsized them.  Only a small percentage of the sailors were rescued, but their narrations of what happened along with the logs of the other ships involved, assisted in the future search of the ships.  In 1971, the searches started for the wrecks using magnetometers and side scan sonar. In 1973 a likely target was found and in 1975 a more advanced form of side scan sonar was used and confirmed the wrecks sitting upright in 290 feet of water.  The first pictures to emerge from a Remote Operated Vehicle were amazing.  After sitting in the water for 162 years, the ships looked like they could be raised, rigged with sails and sailed away.  They were beautifully preserved in the cold, non-saline water of the great lakes.  The details of the figureheads on the prows and catheads were perfect.  It was a very pristine environment.

1812-LogoButtonImage Source:  http://1812.tourismhamilton.com/index.php?category=2&sub=4

 The next set of surveys, completed in 1988 is where the destruction is seen.  At some point between the surveys, quagga mussels had begun growing on the wrecks, covering them.  These are small invasive mussels that are not native to the great lakes, but which can grow in great enough quantities that they will completely cover any surface that they are growing on.  Speculation follows that a freighter brought them in and inadvertently allowed them to be dropped into the lake.  Since the survey in 1988 the Canadian national trust has tried to keep track of the progress of the mussels and how they are affecting the wrecks.  As of the 2008 survey, you could barely recognize what they were originally.  This does not even address what destruction that divers have done to the site.  It is a very sad fact that modern man can and will destroy what time has preserved.

scourge 2008 2

Image Source: http://www.asi-group.com/marine/Hamilton_Scourge.htm

General Conservation

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