Exploring the Deep at the Maritime Festival
By Gianna Volpe
Children and adults alike looking for what’s new and fun at this year’s Maritime Festival are in luck as select members of the public will get their first chance to put themselves in the shoes of an underwater researcher somewhere along Greenport Village’s waterfront by controlling an unmanned submarine of sorts planned to explore the harbor’s depths that weekend.
Marine archaeologist Brett Curlew — on hand with a collection of treasures he’s recovered from Long Island’s depths — will join Buzz Scott of the non-profit marine research organization, Oceanswide, to make this unique opportunity a reality for those attending this year’s event. The duo will operate the underwater vessel remotely, with a colleague dressed and ready to dive alongside it in an antique hard hat suit.
“I like to call them ‘ROUSes’ but everyone thinks that means, ‘Rodents of Unusual Size,’” Scott said with a chuckle of the Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle on loan through SUNY and Harvard University for underwater research he said is currently planned to occur along Long Island’s South Shore. Scott is an internationally known ROV pilot, who was the chief pilot during the exploration of the Titanic.
“We’re planning to come down for about a month every year in the foreseeable future to travel the length of Long Island — from Oyster Bay to Greenport Village — and study the area with junior high, high school and college students,” said Scott.
The Saab Seaeye Falcon DR is a deep-rated robot capable of diving, if need be, down to the Titanic, which youngsters will theoretically be able to use to explore every inch of Greenport Harbor.
“Usually when you go down into the harbors, you’ll see a surprising amount of marine life,” Scott said of what folks may see through the lens of the roughly 300-pound submersible. “People think that, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s been hundreds of years worth of things thrown into the harbors, so you probably won’t see a lot of life’ and that’s true to a certain extent; but for the most part, people also throw away food that sinks down and draws in a lot of animals, so they’re actually very well-fed. A lot of people have told me the Long Island Sound is in need of restoration because there’s been a large die-off, so I don’t know what I’m going to find, but what you don’t find is just as important as what you do find.”
What Scott is getting at here is that such claims are substantiated through an absence of oysters, scallops and certain deep-sea fish historically known to skulk—or simply lay scattered—throughout the Long Island Sound. Curlew will head up any exploration of man-made structures that may be found in Greenport Harbor’s waters as the underwater researcher, whom works as a BOCES field instructor throughout Long Island, has been cataloguing spots all over ‘Shipwreck Alley’ for years now.
“Brett’s an incredible guy,” said Scott. “He’s connected us to everybody in New York and he is a diver and an archaeologist who does it the right way. He is very, very respectful of any ship wreck he goes aboard.”
That includes the U.S.S. Ohio, which Curlew said can be found off Fanning Point in roughly 20 feet of water.
“There’s a bunch of pieces of the hull down there,” he said of the local shipwreck. “I’m into preserving maritime history and my passion is shipwrecks, so the premise here is to get the public in our area excited about being able to do deep sea research and have wreck exploration information to know what’s out in the Hudson Canyon and the bottom of the Long Island Sound, which would enable us to have a platform here to use the Falcon and other vehicles to explore locations where a lot of people aren’t going.” Curlew isn’t the only one interested in bringing more marine research to our underwater East End; Southampton School District’s Greg Metzger of the Long Island Shark Collaboration recently joined Ocearch to catch Great White and other sharks off the coast of Shinnecock. The global non-profit organization chose Long Island as the site for its 25th expedition, which is studying whether or not the region is, in essence, a birthing ground for Great White sharks.
“The whole thing is getting people involved and passionate about [marine research] so we can bring a vessel of Buzz’s quality to Long Island and get students using it to do some hands-on research,” Curlew said of the workshop he’ll be helping to run at this year’s Maritime Festival.
“It’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of when.”
Marine researcher Brett Curlew will be on hand at the East End Maritime Festival on Saturday, September 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. presenting dive history and technology, and a chance to view marine life and local shipwrecks, as well as look at artifacts and equipment collected and used during dives. Buzz Scott will perform demonstrations of the ROV throughout the day.