It’s amazing what fossils and relics you can find when diving Beaufort’s waters.
Blackwater diving. It is dark, it is murky, it can be difficult to discern up from down, left from right. You can’t see your gauges. You can barely make out your hand when it is in front of your face. Fighting the current can be exhausting and at times overwhelming. Toss out the first rule a new diver learns, the buddy system, you aren’t likely to see your buddy until you are both backs on the boat. Despite the perils, black water diving is alluring because of what you might find and it keeps you coming back because of what you do find.
Alluring? Let me back up. As a child living in Colorado, I took a field trip with my 4th-grade class. We all took a bus, stopped on the side of a mountain and participated in a fossil dig. I came home clutching a brown paper bag filled with treasures that nature had preserved. I was hooked.
As a grown-up, I still return to the mountains out west splitting shale for hours collecting evidence of life from millions of years ago. My house is filled with fossils – insects from 35 million years ago, fossil fish from 50 million years ago, trilobites from 500 million years ago – you get the idea. For me, there is nothing like being the first person to see something that has been hidden for millions of years, telling part of a story from long ago.
When I moved to Beaufort several years ago, I started combing our beautiful beaches with my children looking for sharks’ teeth, stingray barbs, fish vertebrae and all sorts of little fossilized treasures. As the years past, the better I got at finding things, the more I learned, and the more versed I became at identifying what I was finding. The teeth were getting bigger, the finds more diverse. I’ve got jars and boxes full of local finds. I knew there were more fossils, artifacts, and bigger teeth to be uncovered in the creeks and rivers – but you had to get in the water to reach them.
I was a certified diver, my husband was a certified diver; we just needed black water training and the guts to go down. Jason Owen is the owner of Sea Island Divers here in Beaufort and was the guy we needed. After some classroom and pool training, we did our fist dive in a shallow creek. I clung to Jason and didn’t let go on that first dive. He is patient and encouraging and he has to be, it is dark and scary down there. Your mind plays games on you. Visibility is often measured in mere inches; during these dives, your flashlight illuminates not much more than a cloud of sediment while you are nose to the ground trying to make out shapes with your eyes and feel with your gloved hands. You are wearing 35 plus pounds of extra weight to keep you at the bottom and yet the current pushes you.
You are desperately trying to surface with something in your bag…
- Why do we find so many shark teeth? Sharks shed thousands of teeth in their lifetime. When they loose a tooth, another one is there to replace it.
- How do shark teeth become fossils? In order for their teeth to become fossils, the teeth must sink to the bottom of the sea and be covered by sediment. When they become buried by sediment they are protected by the weathering and decay that would take place had they remained on the surface. This fossilization process takes thousands of years.
- Why are the teeth different colors? The minerals that are present in the water seep into the tiny pore spaces in the teeth, those minerals will determine the color of the tooth. In our area they are generally black, grey or sometimes brown.
- Why don’t we find other fossils from sharks? Shark skeletons are composed primarily of soft cartilage which decay quickly after the sharks dies. Little remains of their skeletons but occasionally vertebral disks can be found (these are made up of harder, calcified cartilage which will sometimes fossilize).