Sifting through the muck

Ed Coward sorting dredge spoil.

Every year, our research arm, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), heads out on the water to either survey for new wrecks, target test potential anomalies from said surveys or locate and excavate archaeological sites underwater.

How exactly does LAMP work underwater and get the artifacts for the conservation team?

Unlike a “traditional” land site, we cannot simply dig up the dirt and move it to the side with shovels and wheelbarrows. We instead do a similar process, but with an all-in-one dredge setup suited for diving. By using gas-powered pumps to shoot water down a dredge head attached to a large diameter hose, it creates a vacuum in the hose. The hose then sucks up any of the sand in the grids and empties out a few meters away.

While dredging underwater, the divers try to carefully clean down to the concretions and avoid sucking up any artifacts. On the offhand chance that something is either too small to see or visibility conditions are too bad, we make sure to collect all the sediment in bags at the other end of the hose.

Dredging underwater.
Dredging underwater.

All the material that is taken up the hose is called dredge spoil. Most of the spoil is small particulates of sand or clay and is filtered out of the mesh bags.

However, after long sessions of dredging a large amount of shell hash builds up. We try to replace the bags every time a new grid is excavated or once the bag is too full. When that happens we have to bring the bags up to the boat using crates and lift bags.

The lift bags are simply bags that are filled with air and help slowly raise the dredge spoil up to the surface. Once we haul everything on board, the next step is to pour the spoil into buckets, make sure they are documented and transport them back to the lighthouse.

Dredge spoil tagged and ready.
Dredge spoil tagged and ready.

One thing we make sure to do is keep the buckets of spoil filled with water. Even though we bring them back at the end of every excavation day, we are not able to sort through them right away. Often times we will not get to the dredge spoil for quite some time, as field school and other conservation tasks take precedence. Continue reading

Florida Association of Museums Conference in Pensacola

Florida’s Emerald Coast, the stretch of land running from Panama City Beach to the end of the state at Pensacola, is the site of one of the earliest attempts at European settlement in our nation’s history. Before that, Native Americans called this area, with its tall pine trees and white sandy beaches, home. Its story is documented in written records and in its soil, where artifacts and building foundations serve as testament to the generations who have lived there.

Staff outside the Florida State Museum in Pensacola. Front row, L to R: Loni Wellman, Barb Holland, Chuck Meide and Brendan Burke. Back row, L to R: Shannon O’Neil, Dr. Sam Turner and Andrew Thomson.


This rich history served as the backdrop for the 2016 Florida Association of Museums (FAM) Annual Conference in Pensacola, where museum professionals from around the state came together to meet, learn, and network. St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum staff members made the drive down I-95 to the City of Five Flags to share our work and to see the great things our fellow Florida museum professionals are doing for our state.

Several of our Museum’s staff members presented their work at the FAM Conference. One of our largest projects this past year was the development and creation of the Wrecked! exhibit detailing the story of a 1782 British Loyalist shipwreck that our archaeologists spent six years investigating.

Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) Chuck Meide presented on the shipwreck research behind our Wrecked! exhibit.


Our staff conducted two sessions during the conference detailing the research and museum work that went into the exhibit. The archaeologists shared how their original research revealed this amazing story of evacuation and danger on the ocean. Our conservators explained the challenges of cleaning and protecting the artifacts so we could display them for our visitors. And the Museum’s exhibit team revealed the techniques and strategies that make the Wrecked! exhibit interactive and engaging, sharing the story of these doomed ocean-goers and the people who found their ships hundreds of years later.

Director of Public Relations Shannon O'Neil and Director of Interpretation Paul Zielinski gave a presentation about social media in museums (with help from Star Waters!).
Director of Public Relations Shannon O’Neil and Director of Interpretation Paul Zielinski gave a presentation about social media in museums (with help from Star Waters!).

Our social media team supports our work here by sharing our stories and what we do through our various social media platforms. Their efforts have been important in generating interest and awareness for our exhibits and events. During a conference session, they shared their strategies and lessons they’ve learned with social media teams from other Florida museums so they too can support what they do through social media. Marketing and public relations is a huge part of any organization’s success and our Museum is no different. Museum staff shared their approaches to marketing toward millennials, that elusive generation of young adults who make up the next great segment of museum patronage.

Conferences are also an excellent opportunity to explore the area and, in this case, discover some of the amazing museums and historic sites in Pensacola. Old Christ Church, one of the oldest surviving church buildings in Florida, served as the venue for several events during the conference. Evening events also included stops at the Pensacola Museum of Art, the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum, and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The University of West Florida Historic Trust hosted the conference in Historic Pensacola, where conference attendees walked the historic streets of the city and enjoyed the many structures and museums that make up the site.

Our staff enjoyed a private event at the National Naval Aviation Museum. From left to right: Andrew Thomson, Loni Wellman, Shannon O’Neil, Starr Cox, Paul Zielinski, and Barb Holland.

On the closing evening of the 2016 FAM Conference, our Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming was named as the organization’s new president for a two-year term. At the same ceremony in Old Christ Church, Brenda Swann, Director of the Interpretive Division, was also recognized with the prestigious Museum Excellence Award for her leadership in the development and execution of the Wrecked! exhibit.

Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming, the new president of the Florida Association of Museums, poses with Director of the Interpretive Division Brenda Swann, who won the 2016 Museum Excellence Award.

Staff from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum have returned invigorated with new ideas and the energy of sharing our work with other museum professionals from around our great state.


Paul Zielinski is Director of Interpretation for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. He received his master’s degree in Public History from the University of West Florida and joined the lighthouse family in 2011.

9 Frequently Asked Questions at the Top of the Lighthouse

When you visit us here at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, you will most likely climb to the top of our famous Lighthouse to enjoy the breathtaking views of our beautiful town. Tourists and locals alike all seem to have the same several questions they ask when they get to the top of the Lighthouse.

1. “What are those giant white tents?”

We know what you’re thinking, no it’s not a circus or fair of any sort. It may look a little different from an aerial view but is in fact the St. Augustine Amphitheater!


2. “How many stairs did I just climb?”

This question is usually asked with a lot of huffing and puffing involved. There are 219 stairs from the base of the tower to the top with eight landing areas to rest in between. It may sound like a lot, but we promise it’s not that bad and it is totally worth the view!


3. “How tall is this thing?”

The tower stands tall at 165 feet from the ground. It is 95 feet taller than the Old Spanish Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is the 5th tallest in Florida and is also much wider than most lighthouses. For guests, the highest point you can reach is the gallery deck, which is 140 feet above the ground. Continue reading

State of the Museum: Membership Meeting


Last night we were pleased to present some updates on all of the exciting things happening at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum at our annual State of the Museum Membership Meeting. membermeeting For those who were unable to attend the meeting, we have included a few highlights below from the night’s presenters, Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming and Division Director for Maritime Archaeology Chuck Meide.

Museum Highlights:

  • As of last night’s meeting, we now have 3,994 member households — up from 1,267 last year.
  • Last year over 206,000 people visited the Museum including over 15,000 from St. Johns County and another 7,000 from Duval County.
  • The final phase of our capital campaign has begun, bringing us closer to our restoration goals that will help honor the World War II history of the Light Station.
  • We are just $200,000 shy of completing the campaign, with $2.4 million already raised to date.
  • The capital campaign has helped to cover critical restoration projects on the tower, Keepers’ House, and Fresnel lens as well as our newest exhibitions, At Home with the Harns and Wrecked!.
  • This year, the Museum will begin construction on the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center at the Light Station. This new 2,500 sqft facility will provide much needed space for public education programs and maritime research, as well as new experiences for our visitors so that they can see archaeology up close!
  • Accompanying that effort will be the restoration of our 1936 Jeep garage (used as a Jeep maintenance facility during WWII for beach patrol) and the 1941 U.S. Coast Guard Barracks, in which five Coasties lived while they kept a 24-hour watch over the Lighthouse. The restoration project is expected to be completed in the late winter of 2017.
  • Donations to this campaign will help honor those who served to protect our nation while German spies landed on local beaches and U-boats patrolled American shores.
  • Gifts of $2,500 or more over five years ($500 a year) will entitle the donor to a prestigious spot on our donor wall in the new building, tying your family’s legacy to the Light Station forever.
  • We are so close to launching these huge milestone projects for the Museum, donations of all sizes WILL make a difference to completing this campaign.

Maritime archaeology highlights:

  • Another successful field season for our team of Lighthouse archaeologists from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) yielded more artifacts and an even greater need for the new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center.
  • LAMP completed 22 days of diving on the Anniversary Wreck, believed to date to the late 1700s.
  • In that time, LAMP archaeologists, students, and volunteers safely completed 22 dives for 276 hours, 40 minutes bottom time, which averages to 12.58 average hrs. bottom time/day.
  • LAMP had a record number of students, 12, in the July 2016 Field School, along with another five student supervisors. We had volunteers and interns from as far away as the Netherlands and India, visiting from schools across the U.S. and the world, including Oxford University and the University of Montreal.
  • LAMP has discovered three historic shipwrecks since July 2015.
  • We are closely following events related to the discovery of a 16th-century French shipwreck off Cape Canaveral. This wreck is believed to be the Trinite, the flagship of Jean Ribault’s lost French Fleet of 1565. Chuck will be travelling to Paris, France, next week where French government archaeologists and state officials will be discussing the possible future investigation of this important shipwreck site.
  • Pledge your support for maritime research and education today »

We Get By With a Little Help from Our Friends


This month we focus on two great guys and two great boats that helped us move forward this summer. Mike Potter and Kevin Carrigan are supporters who literally help our research stay afloat. If you haven’t seen us around town, or offshore, here’s the skinny on our boat ops from the summer of 2016.

Each summer, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, heads out to sea for a field season of shipwreck discovery. Our field laboratory floats on the Atlantic Ocean, packed with researchers, volunteer assistants, equipment. Each day it sets out in the soft amber light of a Florida summer sunrise. During this part of the year the St. Augustine inlet settles down into a somnolent state, rarely raising its head in anger. I guess even an inlet needs to take a break from shipwrecking. Only occasionally does a far-flung storm from well over the horizon raise and send us a sea that prohibits work, or sometimes an unseasonal trade wind that dipping into the Atlantic bight runs its invisible hand over the sea to rake up haystacks. But for the most part, our summers are defined by a rhythm of heading to sea at sunrise, mooring on a shipwreck site while the sun is well above the yardarm, and getting underway for home sometime in the late afternoon.

Our laboratory, for the past seven years, has been a steel trawler named Roper. Most of you reading this are familiar with Roper as she has become part of our research family, as much as 17 tons of steel and iron can. But, this year she played only home games, plodding the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay in the name of science. That left us without a research vessel – a commuter bus, pickup truck, office, wet lab, and dive platform all rolled into one. While Roper had important work to do, stopping fieldwork for lack of a research vessel meant losing more than a decade of momentum, allowing the beating heart of research to pause. As with most near-crises, friends of Museum came to the rescue.

Mike Potter

With water streaming down the outside of the windows and lightning flashing outside, it was a dark and stormy night last November that found LAMP Director Chuck Meide and myself in a pizza joint in Cocoa, Florida. Our friend, Mike Potter convened a dinner to bring like-minded divers together. During the meeting we told Mike that Roper’s dance card was completely full in the Chesapeake for 2016 and that she wouldn’t be available for a Florida cruise. Without hesitation, Mike jumped at the opportunity to fix a problem, he volunteered his own boat. As a boat mechanic, he is used to looking at problem and seeing solutions. Sandra, Mike’s wife, sat by us quietly noting the conversation. She is full partner in their adventures. While she doesn’t dive, Sandra is the ‘sanity on the surface’ and has relentlessly supported Mike’s SCUBA mission, always ready to host out of town divers, never wincing at repair or equipment bills, ever-vigilant when the boat is out. She is Mike’s Mission Control.

A homeboy from Cocoa, Florida, Potter has always immersed himself in the sciences of the Cape, a place where rockets flew to the moon during his boyhood and the area code is still ‘321’. Like many people with a sense of adventure, Mike was called by the sea. Through the 80s and 90s, he grew into the diving community around the Cape and became a leader in new technology that allowed humans to explore deeper into Davy Jones’ locker. The diving club he was part of wasn’t your typical fish and reef folks, dives over 200’ were as common as breathing helium mixtures to prevent decompression sickness. Their dive sites were shipwrecks, scattered around the waters of Florida’s only Atlantic cape.

On a routine 240’ dive one summer, Mike explored the silent remains of Cities Service Empire, a 465’ tanker torpedoed in the Battle of the Atlantic. The twisted steel of the wreck rested at such a depth that artifact looters had yet to work it over. Portholes, ceramics, everything seemed to lie in and on the wreck; the place was almost untouched. Mike and his friends had occasionally brought up artifacts from the wreck as souvenirs, medals for having penetrated the deep and come back alive. During the dive, Mike thought of his father, who served in the Naval Armed Guard during WWII when Empire was sunk. He thought of the fifteen men who lost their lives in a burning sea, a backwater of the war that Nicholas Monserrat described as

“a private war. If you were in it, you knew all about it. You knew how to keep watch on filthy nights, and how to go without sleep, how to bury the dead, and how to die without wasting anyone’s time.” 

Mike knew that a twist of fate could have put his father on this ship and ranked him among the perished. The wreckage Mike and his friends were diving became grail to this quiet battle, a dark and cerulean crypt patrolled eternally by barracuda. Beginning his ascent to the surface, Mike was a diver reborn -a defender of the Empire -  and a man who takes shipwreck protection as seriously as his faith. Today Mike has led efforts to protect the wreck from disturbance and cautions any diver to “have reverence when you go there. If you don’t have the respect and the reverence, stay home.”

Dockside, Empire Defender shows off her sharp entry. The 31’ dive boat has served as LAMP’s primary research platform for the 2016 field season.
Dockside, Empire Defender shows off her sharp entry. The 31’ dive boat has served as LAMP’s primary research platform for the 2016 field season.

Empire Defender – A lot of story.

Freetime was built in 1978 by Stuart Angler as part of 10 commercial hulls marketed to snapper fishermen and charter outfits. Based on a northeastern-style lobster boat, she was built with a round but shallow bottom and a very fine entry.  For years, Freetime explored the waters of Key Largo as one of Dive World’s fleet of charter boats. Her owner, Capt. Corky, was instrumental in bringing the ex-Coast Guard cutters Bibb and Duane to the Keys. Sometime in the late 90s Freetime ended up in Tarpon Springs where she went un-loved and ended up sinking in a marina. Continue reading