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MARC High School Students Dive on Historic Shipwreck in America's Oldest Port

Menendez High School student Ricky Stratton makes a giant stride entry as LAMP intern Lindsay Jones, fellow student David Pouliotte, and Menendez High teacher Ken Jones look on.

One of LAMP's more exciting educational activities is the MARC program. MARC=Maritime Archaeology Research Class. Founded in 2000, LAMP's high school program was initiated at Nease High School, and later moved to Pedro Menendez High School just south of St. Augustine. With the inception of LAMP's First Coast Maritime Archaeology Project (FCMAP), the MARC program was reorganized and expanded. Starting last September, the students enrolled in this class interact with archaeologists five times a week, including 2 hours of pool training for each student every week for NAUI scuba diver certification. Through our FCMAP grant, 10 new sets of dive gear were purchased so that these students can dive with LAMP archaeologists first as student divers and later as project volunteers. Last week, our first class of student archaeologists "graduated" by conducting their final two checkout dives on a historic shipwreck offshore St. Augustine.

Chuck Meide takes a moment to relax during a surface interval between checkout dives.

Chuck Meide is not only the Director of LAMP, but a certified NAUI diving instructor. For eight years he taught scuba diving at Florida State University, helping introduce over a thousand people to the world of diving. The curriculum he has designed for the MARC scuba certification class is largely based on that college-level course. Each student in the MARC class participated in 2 hours of training work in the pool every week from September through the end of December. This is much more underwater time that a student diver would receive in a typical scuba class taught at a dive shop. In addition, the students received one hour of scuba classroom training each week. All in all, these students have participated an an intense training effort, having learned skills that many recreational scuba divers haven't even heard of. And that training shows. In their first two checkout dives at Ginnie Springs, I heard the comment from an experienced divemaster that he had never seen such skilled and relaxed student divers. Their next dive was a shallow one in Salt Run, where the students demonstrated their rescue diving skills in a low visibility environment.

On a surprisingly calm and sunny February day, the students and instructor swim from the boat to the buoy marking the downline to the steamship wreck below.

Low visibility training in the pool and in Salt Run served our students well, as the visibility offshore was predictably murky. In fact, it was really one of our worst days as far as visibility goes (and we have a lot more bad vis than good vis days). Regardless, in order for our students to receive their scuba diver certification, they have to safely participate in five dives. The last two took place today, on the Steamship Wreck located just offshore the Lighthouse.

Because visibility was so limited, for the most of the dive the students were limited to a very small area on top of the boiler and steam engine. These massive mechanical components stand around 10 feet off the seafloor, where the visibility is not quite so bad. Despite these limitations, the students still witnessed a wide variety of sea life, including sponges, sea urchins, sea anemones, and small and large fish. And of course they got a true hands-on history lesson, experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime visit to a historic shipwreck.

Menendez High students David Pouliotte (top) and Ricky Stratton on the surface after their first dive on a shipwreck.

Its no surprise that the students had a blast. While a few of them might have been a little anxious about their first ocean dive, we sure had a lot of smiling faces after returning to the world of daylight after their all too brief exploration of the sunken shipwreck hidden in the gloom below.

Ricky goofing off before his dive.

Mike H. clearly enjoyed his first dive on a shipwreck site.

Melissa Maxwell all dressed up and ready to go!

Patrick gives one last good-bye glance to the boat before entering the water.

Ricky Stratton prepares to climb back into the boat after his dive.

Congratulations to all of the MARC students from our first class who have finished their checkout dives and are now certified divers!

Comments (5)

You people are crazy!Sea diving is dangreous!!!!!!!!!

Hi - I do history stuff in Flagler County. Came upon a 1769 map that appears to show a shipwreck just off shore dtd Feb 12, 1769, somewhat south of present Marineland. Have nice sharp digital image of map
(John and Samuel Lewis 1769)
Would like someone's opinion if this really is a shipwreck. If you gave me an email address I would forward my scan of the map to you. Maybe just me dreaming but sure looks like one!

I looked for someone on the web and came up with you.

Bill Ryan

Hi Bill,

That sounds really interesting, of course we'd love to take a look. The area you describe is definitely in our region of interest and if the lead seems promising we may go search for your wreck. You can always contact the archaeologists at LAMP through our official email, LAMP@staugustinelighthouse.com. Can't wait to see your map!


I figured I'd better respond to Cassie, who thinks that diving is dangerous. While diving does entail an inherit amount of risk, we have a very safety-oriented program. Most of our training is conducted using the standards developed by NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) whose motto is "Safety through Education." Our scientific diving standards strictly follow the national standards of the American Academy for Underwater Sciences. You can see from this post and others on this blog how we take pains to provide the best training and oversight to our divers in training, and we have a very successful safety record in both training and research dives. Each research dive is highly organized, and different members of our staff and volunteer team play various roles--Dive Supervisor (in overall charge of safety), Safety Diver (a standby diver ready to enter the water in case of emergency), Timekeeper (keeps track of divers air pressure, bottom time, and depth), and at least a two-person dive team. This level of training and oversight, coupled with the expertise and experience of our staff and volunteers, helps us maintain an excellent safety record while efficiently gathering data underwater.



I was curious, what's your take on throwing your gear into the water before you get in?


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