High school students find Great Lakes shipwrecks


James Delgado and the Project Shiphunt team. Photo: Sony.

Fifteen-year-old Tiesha Anderson remembers the day her classmates started treating her differently.

“When the cameras were following me at school, people I didn’t even know would come up to me and start talking to me,” she recalls of her time hunting a Lake Huron shipwreck.

Project Shiphunt, helmed by Sony Corp. and Intel Corp., selected five students from Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw, Mich. to participate in the search and a documentary about it.

The companies collaborated on the project to demonstrate the potential of their technologies.

Based at NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Mich., the companies wanted to select students in the state.

“We chose Arthur Hill High School because the students from there showed the most raw excitement,” Sony spokesperson Ken Byers said. “These kids have the raw science and technology skills to undertake such a big project, and were keen to learn. Many of the students expressed that the experience would be a springboard for them.”

James Delgado, director of Maritime Heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, led the hunt, acting as the students’ mentor.

“We needed students that were willing to work hard and had an interest in the opportunity,” Delgado said. “It empowered them to take critical steps in their own lives. We wanted the experience to give them a better understanding of science, history, archaeology, and in picking a career.”

Delgado is based in Maryland. But he recognized the importance of the Great Lakes in this project.

“The Great Lakes have tremendous significance for the U.S.,” he said. “More than 100 wrecks there haven’t been found.”

In May Sony provided the team with laptops used to find a sunken ship. When 17-year-old James Willett learned about the opportunity, he knew it could open doors for his goal to become a video game designer.

“[The project] got me more used to computers and opened my eyes,” he said. “It showed me what I could use to make myself better able to do that job well, and give me new ideas if I don’t decide to continue down that path.”

While on the lake, Willett operated a remote vehicle, a robot that carries 3-D cameras or sonar gear and serves as eyes for underwater exploration. The laptops process data from the robot to locate the ship.

“I got to drive a joystick,” he said. “It was like playing video games.”

While Anderson had her future in mind, the adventure was the biggest draw.

“I wanted to do something different,” she said. “It sounded like a good opportunity to work on my resume but have fun at the same time.”

Anderson and Willett worked with fellow students Yer Vang, Tirrea Billings and Cody Frost. They were assigned to research the lake, shipwreck and vessel characteristics. They then spent 10 days on the lake. In the end, they found not just one ship, but two.

The schooner M.F. Merrick and steel freighter RMS Etruria each sank in the 1880s.

“Ocean exploration and research in NOAA has a mission which is simply stated, to boldly go,” Delgado said in a Sony video.

This mission was undoubtedly achieved for these students, Delgado explained.

“They moved beyond their comfort level,” he said. “Some of them had never been on a boat before. They had never seen technology like that deployed. They had definitely never worked on robotic systems. They participated every step of the way. Learning by doing is the most challenging and rewarding. In that, all five of them boldly went.”

“By the time I came back, my friends said I changed,” Willett said. “I had so much more self-confidence … [The entire project] was awesome. There isn’t one moment I didn’t cherish.”

There is one moment, though, that sticks out in Anderson’s mind as she looks back on Project Shiphunt.

“In the camera we saw a blurry view of the ship,” she recalled.

The students got to sign a plaque that was put on the ship.

The hour-long documentary will air Aug. 30 at 10 p.m. ET on the independent television and online network Current Media.

One thought on “High school students find Great Lakes shipwrecks

  1. Hi Fellow Shipwreck Hunters. I am a SCUBA diver and have dived to over 120 shipwrecks along the NSW coast of Australia. I ask are these students going to take up U/W diving in the near future? My passion is about shipwreck bells. Did they find a bell on either of the two wrecks they located? A historic shipwreck off Brisbane, Queensland is the A.H.S.CENTAUR. when it was located in 2009, its bell was photographed at a depth of 2,059metres (about 6,800ft). I am lucky to have a copy of the photo. This was as good for me as the students who located the two wrecks must be feeling. Yours, johnsumner2011@gmail.com

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