More than 80% of the ocean remains unexplored. Even in the areas we have investigated, divers are constantly finding different animal species and amazing relics. In 2014, Canadian researchers went on a routine research dive when they found something unexpected: a camera.
Unknown to the researchers, that camera had remained on the ocean floor for over two years. When they sorted through the photos, they ended up investigating a mysterious shipwreck. Read on to learn what they found.
A University’s Routine Research Dive
On May 13th, 2014, professors and students from The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre went on a routine research dive. The Canadian researchers left their university in British Columbia and sailed out to the coast of Vancouver Island.
The students were on their final research dive for university credit. Their mission was to count species of starfish and bring some specimens back to class. But during their dive, the students would find something that nobody expected to see again.
What’s On The Ocean Floor?
While diving, two university students, Tella Osler and Beau Doherty, were counting starfish. Doherty noticed an object about 40 feet below the surface. The object was partially hidden by sand, with a leather strap and a lens.
He signaled Osler, who swam to help him dig the object out. They both recognized it as a camera. One student put the camera in his pocket and continued to count starfish before he swam back up to the boat.
The Mysterious Camera
Isabelle M. Côté, a professor of Marine Ecology at Simon Fraser University, was among the faculty members overseeing the dive. While on the boat, she had expected students to return with starfish numbers, not a camera covered in algae and barnacles.
“One of them picked it up and put it in his pocket,” Côté later said. “When they came up from the dive, he said, ‘Look what I found.'” The student brought the mysterious camera on board for inspection.
What Does The Camera Contain?
The research crew was fascinated by the camera. Siobhan Gray, the dive and safety officer on board, said that the camera looked like a pirate movie prop. But the crew didn’t mess with the camera until they brought it back to shore.
“My first thought about the camera was, are there still images on the card?” Gray later said. Shee and Côté delicately took apart the camera with a pair of tweezers in their lab.
A Miniature Ecosystem Inside The Camera
When Côté and Gray opened the camera, they didn’t expect what they saw. Sea creatures had crawled into the camera and used it as a home. Inside of the device were a few brittle stars, at least seven phyla, and one sea cucumber.
Nature had entirely taken over the camera. Some kind of black algae covered most of the device. Despite the damage, though, the most important part of the camera remained relatively intact: the memory card.
Examining The Memory Card
Although the researchers couldn’t revive the camera, they could examine the memory card. Luckily, the Lexar Platinum II, 8 GB memory card remained intact despite some black algae. Gray removed the card, cleaned it, and popped it into her computer.
Miraculously, the memory card still supplied old photos dating back to 2012. Although she felt uncomfortable looking through private photos, she wanted to find out who the owner was. Whose camera ended up on the bottom of the ocean?
Personal Photos Of Strangers
On the memory card, numerous photos depicted family and friends at get-togethers, diving sessions, and boating trips. “There were lots of photos of groups of people, like a family reunion,” Côté said.
Other photos showed family members diving and playing in the ocean. Gray and Côté focused on one photo of friends and family members standing in a line. The town of Brimfield only has 250 people, according to Côté. Someone had to recognize a person in the photo.
The Last Video
Along with photos, the researchers saw a few videos. The researchers did not recognize any of the people. One stood out from the rest; it was the last video ever filmed on the camera.
The video was shot on July 31st, 2012. It showed a full moon over the sea. When Gray first watched the video, she expected to see the camera fall and sink to the sea floor. But nothing happened. It was only a creepy foreshadowing of the camera’s fate.
Searching For The Owner
Gray and Côté saw several personal photos. They felt determined to return the memory card to its owner. Côté posted one group photo from the camera to Twitter, asking if anyone recognized the picture. Many people replied to the tweet.
Despite hundreds of people liking, retweeting, and commenting on the photo, nobody recognized the people in the picture. Côté and Gray didn’t know how long the camera had been underwater; was the owner even still alive?
Will The Locals Know Who The Owner Is?
Asking the entire internet for information didn’t work out. So Gray narrowed her search. She posted the family photo to a community message board in her town. Still, nobody recognized anyone in the picture.
Gray and fellow staff members hung flyers across Brimfield. They asked for anyone with information to contact Gray to get the camera back. With a population of just over 3,700, Brimfield had to someone who could give Gray and Côté a tip.
Finally, The First Lead
Although hundreds of people saw the social media post and posters, nobody recognized anyone in the photo. A week after posting, Gray was walking by one of the posters when she ran into a local taxi driver.
The driver told her that he recognized someone in the picture. According to him, one man in the picture resembled someone whose ship sank two years ago. But he wasn’t quite sure. Grey unpinned the poster and decided to consult the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard Could Never Forget That Shipwreck
With the poster in hand, Gray visited the Bamfield Coast Guard station. As the taxi driver suggested, one of the Coast Guard workers recognized a man in the photograph. He believed that he might have rescued the man a few years before.
The Coast Guard and Gray got to work. After digging through old files, they found the man’s name and number. An employee called the man and left a message, saying that they found a camera that had been missing for two years.
Who Was The Owner?
According to the Coast Guard, the camera’s owner was Paul Burgoyne, an artist from Vancouver. In 2012, the Coast Guard found Burgoyne shipwrecked on a rock in the middle of a raging storm. The camera–and Burgoyne’s boat–were nowhere to be found.
The Coast Guard contacted Burgoyne to tell him about the camera. Gray had to wait for a call from the mysterious man, if he was the person whose ship crashed and sank two years ago.
Burgoyne’s Recovered Family Memories
As it turns out, Paul Burgoyne was the camera’s owner. When the Coast Guard called him, he remembered not only the shipwreck but also the missing camera. He thought that he would never see it again.
When Burgoyne finished his call with the Coast Guard, he happily broke the news to his wife. “His wife was laughing a great deal and mentioned how lucky he was,” Gray said. Burgoyne received Gray’s number from the Guard and contacted her.
The Shipwreck That Started It All
Burgoyne’s lost camera came with a story. In July 2012, Burgoyne embarked on a journey from Vancouver to Tahsis in British Columbia. He took his 30-feet-long boat out into clear skies.
“I felt bliss when the ocean went calm, and I was sitting at the back of the boat all by myself,” Burgoyne recalled. “[I was] thinking, ‘What could be better than this?'” However, Burgoyne never predicted that a storm would approach so quickly.
How The Boat Sank
While sailing, weather can change in the blink of an eye. Burgoyne’s journey went from clear skies to a storm within minutes. To make matters worse, Burgoyne made several mistakes while sailing.
Burgoyne soon found himself lost in the harsh waters. “I thought I had the boat on autopilot, but clearly I had made a mistake,” he rehashed. Eventually, Burgoyne’s boat crashed into some unseen rocks. As the ship sank, Burgoyne scrambled in the turbulent waves.
Barely Hanging On To Life
With his boat in pieces, Burgoyne managed to swim to some rocks. Although the rocks were near a cliffside, the waves were too dangerous for Burgoyne to attempt to climb on his own. He began shouting for help.
“I was on the rocks for about six hours,” Burgoyne later recalled in an interview, “and had hypothermia.” Although Burgoyne could have easily passed away, he never gave up. Fortunately, luck was on his side that day.
He Survived Because Of Luck
Luckily, a few tourists had approached a cliff at a local inn. While standing on top, they heard Burgoyne’s shouts. The reached out to the local Coast Guard, who were also conveniently next door.
The Coast Guard saved Burgoyne in the nick of time. The next day, the Coast Guard returned to the spot to collect some of his belongings. Although they found some leftovers from the crash, the camera was already at the bottom of the ocean.
Burgoyne’s Only Memories Of A Family Death
As it turns out, Gray and Côté were correct when they assumed that the camera was important. Burgoyne had used the camera to capture his family scattering his mother’s ashes at Lake of Woods in Ontario. They were the only photos Burgoyne had of the memories.
Understandably, Burgoyne and his wife were relieved to receive the photos again. “We were surprised but really appreciate the people who went to that extent to find me and return our photos,” he told ABC News. “That was very kind.”
Traumatic Memories–And A Silver Lining
Burgoyne’s boat had crashed less than an hour after he took his last photos. He finds it remarkable that the card still worked even being underwater for two years. And although Burgoyne lost many belongings in the shipwreck, his camera was the most valuable.
“I have a new respect for, you know, these electronics,” Burgoyne said. “You throw most of it away every two years, but that little card is an amazing bit of technology.”