TIMBALIER ISLANDS, La. — Not just flora and fauna are getting caked in oil. So is the Gulf of Mexico's barnacled history of pirates, sea battles and World War II shipwrecks.
The Gulf is lined with wooden shipwrecks, American-Indian shell midden mounds, World War II casualties, pirate colonies, historic hotels and old fishing villages. Researchers now fear this treasure seeker's dream is threatened by BP PLC's deepwater well blowout.
The bridge of the USS Oriskany, off Pensacola, Fla. (AP)
Within 20 miles of the well, there are several significant shipwrecks — ironically, discovered by oil companies' underwater robots working the depths — and oil is most likely beginning to cascade on them.
"People think of them as being lost, but with the deepsea diving innovations we have today, these shipwrecks are easily accessible," said Steven Anthony, president of the Maritime Archaeological and Historical Society.
"If this oil congeals on the bottom, it will be dangerous for scuba divers to go down there and explore," Anthony said. "The spill will stop investigations; it will put a chill, a halt on (underwater) operations."
The wrecks include two 19th-century wooden ships known as the "Mica Wreck" and the "Mardi Gras Wreck." The German submarine U-166 and ships sunk by other German submarines during World War II are within the spill's footprint.
The Mica was a 200-year-old, two-masted schooner that sank sometime before 1850, according to a report by the Minerals Management Service. It was discovered about 2,500 feet deep in the Mississippi Canyon during work to lay a pipeline.
In 2002, the Mardi Gras wreck was discovered by oilfield workers in even deeper waters: About 4,000 feet down about 35 miles off the Louisiana coast. The wreck got its name from the pipeline project where the wreck was found: the Mardi Gras Gas Transmission System, a huge deepwater pipeline system.
08 July 2010
AP: Sinking oil threatens historic Gulf shipwrecks
From Cain Burdeau at Associated Press, an article about the archaeological impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis (via Boing Boing):