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You are here: /main/research expeditions/August/September 2007/Tagging sharks

Interviews with the Maritime Heritage Archeology Team

by Carlie Wiener

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Maritime Heritage Archeology TeamHans

Dr. Hans Van Tilburg - Principal Investigator
Maritime Heritage Program

Dr. Van Tilburg accidently fell into his passion for the past. His diving and maritime background led him to East Carolina University where he was hit with the history and archaeology bug. Since then, Van Tilburg’s interest in maritime archeology and heritage has blossomed, with five survey expeditions to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. He never gets bored with the beauty of this unique ecosystem but also the physical way it preserves the ship wrecks, capturing the past from different times and places. Dr. Van Tilburg is fascinated by sea faring and wreck sites as they relate to the ocean. The chance for new discovery and witnessing historic sites not seen by many really excites him.

Role on the research trip
Dr. Van Tilburg has the unique role of investigating wreck sites and interpreting their past in order to capture history. He then shares this information with the public, ensuring that the past is available to all. He loves the physical challenge of working in an open ocean environment where ships once sailed. It is always different being able to survey large surge areas with unique coral typography.

Favorite part about being at sea
Working on a ship that has a really great, hard working staff, the meals are always good.

What they are doing
The Maritime Heritage archeology team will be looking at a few recently discovered potential wreck sites by the coral reef ecosystem division of marine debris divers. The group will also survey areas in search of wrecks which are currently unlocated.  The archeology team conducts surveys with various tools and methods. They often use a tow board which pulls the diver through the water for visual surveying. When a site is found, the slate and tapes, and digital still and video cameras are used to document ship size, location, condition, distribution of artifacts, etc. 

What they hope to find
The team hopes to discover previously unlocated wrecks learn more about known sites and the maritime heritage of the atolls.

How the science helps to inform Management
The work of the Maritime Heritage team brings in a new aspect to the field of marine resource management and ocean stewardship. The heritage resources highlight resource preservation, just as the natural resources emphasize resource conservation. The wrecks are the atoll’s physical record of past human activity, providing essential archeological and historical information. If the team encounters more modern wrecks, they too will report this to the appropriate agencies as they could pose a potential environmental threat. Heritage resources in the Monument are remote and untouched, and give an opportunity to expand preservation management, which could serve as a model for other heritage sites both in the main Hawaiian Islands and globally. These wrecks are universal, showing the human connection to the sea.

Dr. Kelly Gleason– Maritime Archeologist, Pacific Region National Marine Sanctuary: Maritime Heritage Program

Dr. Gleason has always been interested in the ocean and history. She finally found a career path which merged these two interests, completing a PhD at East Carolina University. Dr. Gleason first came out to Hawaii to intern with Dr. Van Tilburg which segued into her current position. This is Dr. Gleason’s fourth trip to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. She is particularly interested in the history of whaling in the Pacific Islands region. The Monument fuels this interest with many British and American ship wrecks. Dr. Gleason is also interested in technical diving, and hopes to do some deeper diving looking at World War Two aircraft wreck sites. She enjoys the opportunity to work in such a remote location and being on a ship where the amenities are top of the line for conducting dives.  The good research being done is only possible with the high skills of the ship team.

Role on the research trip
Dr. Gleason is working on various sites throughout the Monument with the rest of the maritime heritage team. At Pearl and Hermes, she expansively mapped the Quartette wreck. The team would have also liked to complete their survey at the Hermes wreck site but due to huge swell the boat was unable to conduct dives there. Once the team completes a site, they can nominate it under the national register of historic places.  The team never knows what to expect, in fact they just discovered a new sailboat wreck which was never seen before. When a new site is discovered an initial assessment is taken, as many of the wrecks are scattered and cannot be mapped in a traditional way. GIS technology has been very helpful to map where artifacts are found and define wreck boundaries. Through pictures, measurements and analysis, sketches of the artifacts are taken and a detailed map is created based on the information collected. The history related to the wreck is also researched through archival work in Washington or at local archives such as the Bishop Museum.

Favorite part about being at sea
Dr. Gleason loves spending time outdoors, especially in a place where it is such a privilege to see and experience breathtaking environment. Being in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands refreshes Dr. Gleason, and helps to renew her energy and inspiration in the work she does.

Tane Casserley– Maritime Archeologist, National Marine Sanctuary: Maritime Heritage Program

Tane grew up in Hawaii and was always exposed to the ocean. His interests merged an undergraduate degree in anthropology and a passion for scuba diving when he found a field school in maritime archeology. Tane is also a University of Hawaii Marine Option Program graduate, and Dr. Van Tilberg who he now works with on these expeditions was one of his first professors. This is Tane’s fourth time to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. His interests lie in 19th century warfare including turn of the century naval ships, and communicating the stories of the past that have been forgotten. Tane’s worked on unique projects such as the Monitor and helped to identity the first Canadian warship found off the keys in Florida. 

Role on the research trip
Based out of Virginia, Tane has the unique job of working with different sanctuary projects related to maritime heritage. Tane has worked many times with the wrecks and staff in Hawaii. His technical diving skills and experience make him an added asset to any research expedition, and is working with the rest of the Hawaii team to help draw site maps and identify different wrecks throughout the Monument. The Corsair located off of Midway is one of Tane’s spots of interest, as it is one of the planes from World War Two. He hopes to publicize the wrecks and stories of such remote locations, especially the whaling wrecks at Pearl and Hermes atoll.

Favorite part about being at sea
Working on the NOAA ship and interacting with all the different scientists.

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