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NOAA and NPS Divers Recover Shipwreck Artifact

Apr 10
Divers wrap an archaeological artifact after recovery.

Divers Tim Thie (NPS, on left) and Robert Schwemmer (NOAA) wrap the recovered pelorus in salt water-soaked towels and shrink wrap to prepare it for overnight shipment to a conservation lab in Chico, CA.

On April 3, 2017, Robert Schwemmer, NOAA Diver and West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Coordinator, serving as principal investigator and diver, joined law enforcement rangers from the Channel Islands National Park to perform an archaeological recovery of a recently identified artifact that needed to be conserved.

The artifact that was recovered is a Pelorus, a maritime navigational instrument similar to a compass and used to maintain bearings of a vessel at sea. It was first discovered in October 2016, during a joint annual shipwreck reconnaissance expedition by Channel Island National Park and Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) divers onboard the National Park Service (NPS) Research Vessel (R/V) Sea Ranger II. They found the artifact at the shipwreck site of the Equator off Anacapa Island where it’s believed that storm surge in 2016 exposed the artifact on a sandy substrate that lies in shallow water and is part of the bottomlands managed by the California State Lands Commission. At the time, divers noticed that the nonferrous metal ring of the Pelorus was in good shape for its age, the degree marks were clearly delineated from 0 to 360, and a glass fragment that once covered the compass rose was still in place.

A pelorus, pre and post storm damage.
Carol Linteau/NPS (left) and Robert Schwemmer/NOAA (right)

This pelorus' vertical wire sight vane was damaged between 10-31-16 and 2-8-17 due to storm tumbling.

A second mission to document the artifact was completed in February 2017 off the NPS R/V Ocean Ranger. Divers took photographs to document the condition of the Pelorus and it was determined that the vertical wire sight vane was missing, likely damaged due to being tumbled in another recent storm surge. In order to prevent further damage, NOAA Diver and Maritime Archaeologist Robert Schwemmer decided to coordinate a mission to recover and conserve the artifact. He contacted the California State Lands Commission and California State University (CSU) Chico Heritage Resources Conservation Lab to communicate the problem and enlist them as partners. Working under a CINMS Superintendent’s permit and meeting other agency compliances, the recovery mission was successfully completed on April 3 and the Pelorus is now in conservation at the lab with a timeline of 12 months to conserve. The Pelorus will eventually be put on public display at a museum or learning center. The location will be determined in consultation with the State of California.

A NOAA Diver and an NPS Diver pose before a dive.

NOAA Diver Robert Schwemmer (left) and NPS Diver Tim Thie before their dive to recover an archaeological artifact near Channel Islands National Park.

About the agencies involved in this project:

The Channel Islands shipwreck reconnaissance program contributes to scientific knowledge and enhancement of management practices related to submerged and terrestrial archaeological resources. The sanctuary works in collaboration with the Channel Islands National Park, the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center, and Coastal Maritime Archaeology Resources volunteer organization. The agencies conduct research, participate in joint annual expeditions at sea to search for new discoveries, survey, map and monitor known archaeological sites, and share these discoveries with the American public. For more information contact:

Through the discovery, study, protection and promotion of our maritime cultural heritage, including an ongoing commitment to the Channel Islands shipwreck reconnaissance program, national marine sanctuaries and their partners help Americans learn more about our past and teach us about the critical need to be wise stewards of our ocean planet.

For more information on the ship and aircraft wrecks at the Channel Islands:




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