“How did you spend your summer vacation?” ROV pilot Buzz Scott asked an eighth grade science class at Blue Hill Consolidated School. “This is how I spent mine.”
Scott had served on the E/V Nautilus, a 64-meter research vessel stationed on the Mesoamerican Reef, alongside their teacher Nell Herrmann, exploring the ocean depths through the photos and data sent back on board by two remotely operated vehicles or ROVs. Herrmann’s role was to narrate for online audiences what the camera lens showed to viewers.
Scott shared his experiences during a class visit on December 8, mixing slides and personal anecdotes with a bit of naval history.
While the images sent by Hercules to the control room on board the Nautilus included underwater life of many kinds in and around the reef, it was the shipwrecks that captured Scott’s attention.
“My favorite thing about studying the deep sea is shipwrecks,” he said.
Wooden ships thousands of years old have been discovered in deep seas in near-perfect condition. It is the lack of oxygen underwater that keeps the wood from rotting, Scott explained. One that was discovered by Nautilus Captain Robert Ballard “exists like it was brand new.”
Scott helped the students do the math—that particular boat was on the seas in 1400 B.C.
One of the finds by the ROV, named Hercules, was the wreck of a German U-boat and an American World War II supply ship the Robert E. Lee. The latter was located in “fairly shallow” water of 1,400 feet.
“She tipped up and sank like the Titanic” Scott said, but her ballast “made her sink level so she sat at the bottom like she would on the surface.”
A brief lesson in military history followed: the U-boat would sink supply ships traveling from Trinidad to the United States, like the Robert E. Lee, until it was sunk itself by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol craft that was “looking out for the coast of America.”
The slide of the sunken supply ship showed its rails studded with strange creatures that Scott identified as flytrap anemones.
These kind of adventures are within the reach of students, Scott added. The Nautilus brings on each research trip two high school seniors in an honors research program.
Scott—and Herrmann—plan to return on board the exploratory vessel next summer on a new expedition.
For more information on the Nautilus, its expeditions, and its sponsor, the Ocean Exploration Trust, visit nautiluslive.org.