Blackbeard's Treasure

BoatThe With the discovery of a 300-year-old ship off the coast of North Carolina, state researchers are speculating that it may be the flagship of the legendary Blackbeard. This pirate sailed the Queen Anne's Revenge and looted ships along the North Carolina coast during the 1700s. I.Q. follows researchers underwater to document and discover the secrets of this priceless piece of North Carolina history.

Blackbeard spent his days plundering ships along our coast until the Queen Anne's Revenge and another ship, the Adventurer, ran aground in June of 1718. Blackbeard survived the wreck but perished in a battle at Ocracoke in November of that same year. His adventures had faded into legend until now.

BuriedIn November 1996, scientists discovered the remains of the shipwreck about 1.5 miles off the coast of Fort Macon in 20 feet of water. Since then, divers have visited the ship numerous times to excavate items that survived the wreck.

"That was one of the most thrilling points of my life, to go down on the ship and see these large anchors looming out of the darkness down there," says Richard Lawrence, unit director for the Underwater Archaeology Unit at Fort Fischer.

"When you conduct archaeology, you are essentially tearing that site apart," adds David Moore, an archaeologist and researcher for the Underwater Archaeology Unit. "So you have to record, in very minute detail, everything that you do. All of that provides us clues as to how the ship was constructed."

SpectatorsAt the site, the divers are working in strong currents and very low visibility as sediment is swirled around them by the ocean tides. Often divers cannot see beyond the reach of their arms.

"It's like swimming in a washing machine right now," says Rick Allen, an underwater photographer working on the project.

DiveNo matter what the identity of the ship, the wreck is a tremendous historical find because there is much that historians do not know about colonial life. With further study of the objects, scientists hope to determine the exact identity of the ship, learning more about its history and the history of North Carolina in the process..

Health of the Haw

Once thriving with finfish and freshwater mussels, the Haw River now drones a slow death cry. In its heyday it was home to textile mills and a major power dam. Mussels were so plentiful in the river basin that they were known to split to heels of people who waded in the river. And the Sissipahaw Indians and residents who lived along its banks used it as their source for food and drinking water.

Named after the Sissipahaw Indians, the Haw River originates in a small spring in Forsyth County and flows to Jordan Lake through the Cape Fear River Basin, one of the 17 major river basins in North Carolina. Because of the waste from the mills and the slow increase in industrial and residential developments around the bank, the river's once-booming health has gradually declined. In recent years, people who drank directly from the river became sick. Fish and mussels have nearly disappeared. The cause? Sediment from the banks, disturbed by urban development and litter, pours down into the river, burying much of the aquatic life.

Despite its polluted state, the Haw River is healthier today than it was during the era of the textile mills, when a thick white foam, carrying waste from the mills, floated down the river daily.

After the mills were abandoned, industrial and housing developments began along the riverbank, and the resulting erosion gradually changed the water's color to a garish brown. The freshwater mussels that once dominated the river slowly perished, leaving the impossible task of clarifying murky water that thousands of mussels purified in the 18th century. The water is so filthy that the Haw River qualified for federal funding for water quality restoration and failed a water purity test 7 months in a row in the Reidsville area. To restore the water purification once accomplished by the mussels, a water treatment plant now churns up the river.

"We've disconnected ourselves from the river to the extent that we're not aware that it is sick, and we don't know what we've lost," said Chris Carter, president of Solar Village Institute. "Eventually, however, the river's state of health is our own state of health."

The Haw River Assembly, a nonprofit citizens group founded in 1982, care for the river and sponsor a water monitoring project four times a year. By monitoring the quality of the water and the development around the river, they can spot potential problems and attempt to prevent additional damage. Preserving the remaining mussels, water bugs, and Cape Fear shiners-a species of fish that is almost extinct-has caught the interest of wildlife groups and many other North Carolinians as well. "We forget that the river is more than just something to drink and flush our toilets with," Carter says. "It's a living community of citizens that we are intimately connected with."

With increased local awareness, federal funding and citizen interest, the health of the Haw River may someday be restored. Until then, concerned groups like the Haw River Assembly hope that residents who use the Haw for drinking water and recreation will listen to its story--and care.