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Search underway for dozens of missing ships in Lake Huron

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary/NOAA.
Pilots Matt Pickett and Brian Taggart observe a UAS during a survey mission over Thunder Bay’s North Point Reef; beached shipwreck remains are scattered throughout the foreground.";

Scientists are launching an exploratory mission into the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in search of undiscovered shipwrecks.

The historical record indicates that there are as many as 100 more out there waiting to be found.

John Bright is a Maritime Archaeologist with the sanctuary. He said the sanctuary received a 181 thousand dollar grant to conduct the exploration.

“We say we’ve got 93 shipwreck sites in the sanctuary that we currently know about, that we’ve located and documented. But the historical record indicates that there are as many as 100 more out there waiting to be found.”

The first phase of the project is underway: drones are surveying shallow areas where boats can’t safely go.

The drones come to the sanctuary through a partnership with Oceans Unmanned, a group that uses technology to inform the public and protect marine areas.

Credit Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary/NOAA.
Pilot Brian Taggart controls a Phantom 4 quadcopter (hovering above) as pilot Matt Pickett observes.

Bright said partnerships are essential to their work.

“We need groups that can come and assist us with this work and bring new and innovative technology to bear. We can’t go out and buy every off the shelf drone system. We depend on people who have those things that are using that as a mainline to bring their equipment, their expertise to bear and we benefit from it.”

Bright said once the drones have surveyed shallow regions of the sanctuary photos of the area will be analyzed in a lab.

Matt Pickett is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s remote sensing division.He says workers  will use software to sort through drone photos.

“That computer software will basically key up the photos for the researchers to actually focus on so instead of going through a thousand photos the software will say ‘hey look at these ten photos’ and then verify. And then if there is something interesting there the next step will be to investigate with ROV’s or divers.”

The Sanctuary is working with Oceans Unmanned, NOAA’s Remote Sensing Division and Environmental Research Lab, The Great Lakes Research Center, and the University of Delaware to bring technology, from drones to 3D mapping tools, to help explore the sanctuary.

John Bright said the hope is to use top of the line tech to uncover new wrecks.

The project is expected to wrap up at the end of July.