Diving "O.K." Near Blackbeard's Pirate Ship
The state program, called Dive Down, would allow 320 divers a year to visit the wreckage off Atlantic Beach on trips arranged through dive shops. Officials of the state underwater archaeology branch said the supervised dives, which begin this fall, will boost tourism and knowledge about the historically valuable shipwreck. They believe the wreckage is that of Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, sunk in 1718. "It's not a glamorous site," said Mark Wilde-Ramsing, manager of the state's Queen Anne's Revenge project. "It's really built on history." Mike Daniel, a Florida diver who helped discover the shipwreck in 1996, believes the state should recover more artifacts before allowing sport divers to visit. He's worried divers will pilfer the shipwreck, which he and partner discovered while searching for a gold-laden Spanish ship. Donny Hamilton, director of the nautical archaeology program at Texas A&M University, has complained to North Carolina legislators that the state is not doing enough to recover, promote and protect the shipwreck. He said opening the site to recreational diving is yet another threat to the site. Daniel said there is not enough security at the site, about a mile off the Atlantic Beach shoreline, and laws governing it are inadequate. Some divers could learn the layout of the site and return without supervision, he said. "I know divers who work only at night," Daniel said. "There are people like that." State officials say the wreck site is under regular surveillance by the Coast Guard and state agencies. Diving, anchoring and trawling are prohibited in a 300-yard area surrounding the shipwreck, which the state has established as a "protected area of primary archaeological and historical value." Wilde-Ramsing said divers would be supervised and would not be allowed to handle artifacts on the ocean bottom. The two anchors, cannons, ship rigging and ballast stones protrude 2 or 3 feet off the sea floor in a 20-by-30-foot area. A $500 fee for would-be visitors will cover a two-day program that includes classes on archaeology and the natural environment. Wilde-Ramsing said those fees will cover only costs. Plans are to allow 320 people a year for five years, with dives scheduled between September and November.