By Meghan Savona, First Flight High School Intern
A maritime archaeology research project is currently underway in the Pamlico Sound off Rodanthe, NC. The shipwreck known as “Pappy’s Lane Wreck” is being studied because of its potential historical, archaeological, interpretive, and educational significance. While the identity of the Pappy’s Lane Wreck is currently unknown, it’s likely that the remains represent a late-nineteenth or twentieth century steel-hulled ship. A group of graduate students in the Program in Maritime Studies at East Carolina University (ECU) are being led by Dr. Nathan Richards to assess the historical and biological impact that Pappy’s Lane Wreck may hold.
Dr. Richards is supervising the project and studying the shipwreck with the goal of assessing its possible historical significance. Excavation of the site will result in detailed accurate drawings of the wreckage while providing clues into the history of the wreck. The vessel appears to be a barge, which had an earlier life as a coastal ship, though in its present state it is now a flourishing ecosystem that is home to fish, crabs, and other marine life. However, possibly the most significant biological factors of the shipwreck are the microorganisms attached to it. As part of this collaborative project, Dr. Erin Field, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at ECU is researching how certain microbes may possibly aid in the degradation and preservation of these underwater artifacts.
“We’re collecting pieces of ship that are in the water…to bring back to the lab to look at the microbes that have attached,” Dr. Field explained.
Different microbes interact differently with certain materials. In particular, Dr. Field is studying how microbes interact with iron and the ferrous-hulled shipwreck is an ideal place to observe these interactions. Iron-oxidizing bacteria speed up the degradation of material and Dr. Field is sampling pieces of the ship and surrounding debris to examine exactly how much of an impact these microbes have on artifacts, as well as possible ways to slow down the degradation of important substances.
As part of a comprehensive education and outreach program, Kira Foster and Meghan Savona – two First Flight High School interns at the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute (UNC CSI) – were given the opportunity to shadow the researchers who are working on the Pappy’s Lane Wreck. On Friday afternoon, they suited up and prepared to snorkel with and observe the researchers. After being cleared by a diving safety officer, they hopped into the shallow water and swam a short distance from the boat to the wreck. One of the goals of the UNC CSI high school internship program is to allow students to gain experience with fieldwork and research relating to marine science. The opportunity to observe and interact with professionals studying maritime heritage was a valuable contribution to their expanding knowledge of the inner workings of our coastal community.
Pappy’s Lane Wreck is a unique educational opportunity for Foster and Savona to gain experience working on a significant project and interacting with trained professionals. They were able to learn more about archaeological techniques and historical research in a real-world situation. When students are given the chance to observe and conduct research first-hand, the knowledge they gain helps to enhance what they’re already learning in the classroom. This type of experiential education benefits all that are involved and better prepares local students by providing them with relevant skills for their future academic endeavours.