Much of the oceans’ magnetic mystery comes from the fact that the waters of our planet can, and do, swallow parts of our human world. And when they do, they leave little or no trace of their quarry above the waves. There is still so much we don’t know about what lies on the seabed, and the possibilities are endless. But, as we explore ever more of the depths, we find ever more fragments of these “lost worlds”. These preserved pieces of history not only help us understand the past a little better, but more importantly they connect us with the awesome size and power of the ocean, and remind us of our fleeting experience of existence in the vastness of time and space. Some artists, possibly compelled by this “existential stimulation”, are even creating works of art to be installed underwater, a lasting testament to humankind’s relationship with the sea.
1. The Hyères Amphorae
The amphorae site consitutes 150 individual antitique amphorae in the bay of La Tour Fondue. It is part of a network of archaeological trails, on land and underwater, in France in the Hyères region of the Mediterranean Sea. Sometime between 70 and 65 BC, a ship transporting 6,000 amphorae filled with wine, travelling from Italy to Spain, sank near the small village of La Madrague on the Giens peninsula. The wreck, with its amphorae, was discovered in the early 1970s, and is in very good condition.
After a lot of preparation work, the more than 2,000-year-old amphores were installed in the bay by AREVPAM (Assocation de Recherches, Etudes et Valorisation du Patrimoine Méditerranéen – Association of Research, Studies and Valorisation of Mediterranean Heritage). They were placed carefully to mimic the situation in which they were found. Experimenting with proper placement since 2012, 30 amphorae were fixed to the sandy bottom of the bay in 2014, and now 120 more have been placed in the bay. Easy to reach at a depth of six to seven metres, the site is open to the public, so that divers, snorkelers and swimmers can share in the feeling of discovery.
Text by Claudia Weber-Gebert
2. The Mermaid and The Guardian
The crystal-clear Caribbean waters of Grand Cayman are renowned for their fantastic reefs and wrecks. But hidden below the surface are two more unique sights: works of art by Canadian sculptor Simon Morris. The gorgeous Mermaid, and imposing Guardian of the Reef, are must-sees in Cayman. Each statue is located via an easily accessible shore dive. At the Sunset Reef, you’ll find Amphitrite, Siren of Sunset Reef, sunk here in 2000. Aficionados of Greek mythology will know her as the sea goddess and wife of Poseidon. Nearly three metres tall and made of bronze, “The Mermaid” as she’s commonly called, is a great subject for photographers and an attraction for divers of all levels.
Up the road in West Bay at Lighthouse Point you’ll find the “Guardian of the Reef” – aptly named as he stands as a reminder to protect the fragile coastal reefs around Cayman. Divers will find the four-metre-tall bronze warrior seahorse statue just a short swim off shore in 20 metres of water. The statue, sunk in 2014, is one of four Guardians by Simon Morris, created to promote environmental awareness and stewardship. With no river runoff clouding the sea, year-round visibility in Cayman averages 30 metres, so you’ll spot these works of art long before you reach them. On your swim out, stay alert for eagle rays, nurse sharks, and turtles that frequent the surrounding reefs. It’s hard to imagine the waters of Grand Cayman being any more inviting, but these majestic statues give you two more reasons to love diving here!
Text by Donald Parker Smith and Susannah H. Snowden-Smith
3. Sri Lanka's lost wrecks
It is estimated there are more than two hundred shipwrecks around the Island of Sri Lanka. A fraction of those have been explored and documented. Most of the wrecks near Trincomalee are victims of World War II, but two of the ships, the SS Worcestershire and SS Perseus, are found near Colombo and hold a significant place in World War I history. During WWI, the SMS Wolf was singlehandedly responsible for destroying 37 vessels. Two of these were warships and the others were trading vessels. The SMS Wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing by disguising her guns behind false sides, and concealing a single engine biplane which was used to spot potential victims.
In February 1917, she laid a minefield near Colombo harbour. Two ships fell victim to the mines, the Bibby liner, SS Worcestershire, and the SS Perseus, a 6,700-ton steamer. Both were merchant vessels serving Great Britain, and both sustained loss of life. Now, 100 years later, the SS Perseus rests 35–40 metres beneath the surface. It is a hauntingly beautiful wreck. Nearly torn in three, the hull is twisted and contorted, giving the impression that it suffered a brutal death. But in death the ship is given a new life as it has become a lush artificial reef. The wreck is located 15 kilometres off shore, beyond the reaches of a recreational day boat. For this reason it has been dived by very few people.
Text by Brook Peterson
4. Roman Remains
In October 2016, archaeologists from the Centre of Subaquatic Archaeology of Catalonia (CASC) in Spain, with the help of the Catalan submarine, Ictineu3, located a Roman imperial shipwreck lying in almost 50 metres of water off the Illes Formigues, or the “Ant Islands”. Thanks to the support of the submarine, the archaeologists could be deployed on long dives to more than 40 metres, allowing them to assess the ship’s condition and gather information needed to plan a future archaeological excavation campaign. They already know that the ship is from the first half of the 1st century BC, and that it was transporting fish broth. It is also the most well-preserved shipwreck from this era in Catalonia; there are, so far, known to be around 840 shipwrecks littering Catalan waters.
According to Gustau Vivar, the Director of CASC, these types of ships would depart from the south of Spain transporting goods, and head for Marseille or Narbonne (France), from which their goods would be distributed throughout the Mediterranean. Ships like these would carry very large loads of between 1,000 to 2,000 amphorae, and the archaeological team is eager to find out how many amphorae this new ancient wreck was holding. For me, it was a great opportunity to descend with the archaeologists. I watched as some of the ceramic containers were partially unearthed, full of small life, and then, some minutes later, felt the sound of the submarine moving, and gazed into the dark, marvelling at how the powerful lights of the bathyscaphe tear the shadows.