Post Covid Lockdown Diving Started in Bermuda July 1st

 In From the Field, News

Image 1. Deck view of the bow of the shipwreck of the Montana 1863, Pre Hurricane Humberto – Coral covered starboard side complete. (P.Rouja)

Image 2. Deck view of the bow of the shipwreck of the Montana 1863, Post-Hurricane Humberto September 2019 – Coral-covered starboard side collapsed and shattered .(P.Rouja)

June 30th, 2020 – Day before recreational scuba diving opens up in Bermuda on July 1st, 2020.
First dives since COVID-19 are scheduled for tomorrow. Many of us have been waiting with uncompressed breath for this day to come when we can get back underwater and let our minds and bodies float free of Earth’s gravity – especially grave today – and for just a moment take in the wonders of nature, the tragedy and hubris of mankind enmeshed in the rich quiet that is the underwater world.

I will be making my first offshore diving visit since the start of the lockdown on March 16th to the Montana, not to check on the state of the wreck, which we have well established, but to see how the corals have fared. Coral had graciously enveloped in a rich thick coating of life that dark testament to mankind’s ability to treat each other without humanity – a Civil War Blockade-Runner. Was this coating of living coral enough to transform its life-taking purpose to a life-giving one? Perhaps not, but the reef does not judge such things. The reef that had taken over the port side of the bow of the Montana was literally smashed to smithereens by waves of blue water in Hurricane Humberto on September 18th, 2019, driven over a slowly submerging reef platform 6 miles at sea. A testament to the difference that a few centimeters of vertical height can make in sports and in reef ecology. Climate change questioners cannot deny this: sea level is rising and blue water is not white water. It has power, gravitas, mass – unstoppable in its progress, and it is solvent to boot! At the top of nature’s hierarchies of need — we all need water – it has unquestionable power, and through force or subtle chemistry it will sustain and dissolve all – except gold – but that is a topic for another post.

Back to the Montana and the golden coral garden that was destroyed in September. Days after its destruction we shifted and moved probably close to 50 corals into the small rocky sandy depression next to the bow. (

Laid flat on the bottom, no longer at 45 degrees and at a different depth (previously 10 – 20 feet, now 25) and with different solar orientations, will they strive? Have they thrived? Have we succeeded? We will know a little more tomorrow, weather permitting. The absence of visits will give us one of those unique moments: when your kids come back from college, when you see your growing nephews after a few months – how have they thrived? Thankfully, we will also be able to answer that question with some methodological power. We were fortunate enough to have completely surveyed the bow of the Montana with the highest order of digital photogrammetry. We have both pre and post Humberto image data sets and, therefore, pre and post coral rescue. We should be able to assess the impact of our small but dedicated effort to save some of what was destroyed – the most important part – certainly to our survival. Will it redress what was lost? Likely not. Would it have been lost anyway? Likely yes. The metal struts of the interior of the Montana’s bow would have eventually been eaten away by their own chemical process – iron to iron oxide hydrates – expanded in size, diminished in strength – the ocean always wins. Perhaps it would have been a more graceful decline, a softer landing for that coral assemblage? We can’t know, but we will know tomorrow to some degree whether it was worth the effort. “Peeing on a forest fire” is an idiom I have always enjoyed that suggests that someone is doing something useless that has no result in the end; it will not diminish the outcome. My personal retort to myself has always been, “Well, we have to pee somewhere; why not try?” And so we try somewhere to do what we can, when we can, with what we have. And so we moved some corals. We tried a little here. And again, as if we need more reminders that with many setbacks new doors open, a literal opening on the wreck has appeared after the storm containing likely another curious assemblage of human objects with a unique historical and personal context. We will endeavor to protect, assess, and, if necessary, recover these items archaeologically, ask ourselves the usual detective questions, entertain ourselves and, hopefully, drive and pull a few people closer to seeing and appreciating the depth of nature that surrounds us and holds us up with every breath. Literally, every third breath is from the ocean. Perhaps even more from the Sargasso Sea. There is no excuse for not knowing this truth. Yet somehow here we are – every day unknowingly polluting our every breath. As we draw our compressed breaths, we as divers are perhaps more acutely aware than most of the rarity of that substance we walk through on a daily basis and literally take from, completely depend upon. Air. Breathe. And as we breathe, the parallels of that moment of inhalation underwater take on a wider meaning. Once more we are all connected by breath, and as I release mine into a perfect blue water column, I will be thankful for each one and extend that wish for clear clean breath to the whole world around me.

Image 3. Aerial of Montana and Constellation, 2017 – note visible intact port section of the Montana bow (P.Rouja)


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