Connecticut's First Underwater Archaeological Preserves
by Cece Saunders

The Department of Environmental Protection's Long Island Sound License Plate Fund has awarded a grant to establish and publicize Connecticut's first maritime-related State Archaeological Preserves. The official designation through the Connecticut Historical Commission for two shipwrecks in the waters of Connecticut will celebrate the historical interaction between Connecticut's people, rivers, and shoreline. Documentation and graphics prepared for the Preserve nomination will be the basis 20-page educational booklets on each shipwreck site.

The two shipwrecks are: the Lightship 51, located in 190 feet of water in Long Island Sound under the administrative custody of the U.S. Coast Guard, and WIlliam Gillette's yacht, "Aunt Polly," located on the Connecticut River shore below Gillette Castle State Park. FOSA members can visit the yacht site during our October 6th picnic.

Shipwrecks and other submerged sites are historic entities to be protected and, when necessary, investigated as part of the public trust. Each shipwreck is a frozen snapshot of a particular time in history. As Daniel Lenihan, head of the U.S. government's only underwater archaeology team, states "shipwrecks are powerful archaeological sites." The lines of the ship, the equipment and features of a ship, the artifacts on a ship - all combine to tell us of the interplay between man and vessel of a bygone era.

Maritime archaeological sites, finite and irreplaceable, are being disturbed and, in some cases, destroyed at an increasing rate. Shipwrecks can be lost to natural action and vandalism because their fragility and import are not understood. When the wrecks lie deep enough to avoid ice, collisions and wave damage, they remain remarkably intact with hulls, superstructures and cargoes free from the depredations of marine organisms.

Management through in situ preservation is paramount. In the past decade, technological advances have allowed archaeologists and deep-sea explor- [text missing] discoveries were possible because of new tools, such as high-resolution sonar, sub-bottom profilers, and agile robotic vehicles. If shipwrecks are not left undisturbed, then the opportunity to apply future, ever more advanced technology is lost. Recognizing underwater sites as archaeological preserves increases the opportunities to use the best available methods.

The mission of the DEP Long Island Sound fund grant is to educate and excite the public through creation of underwater archaeological preserves, and respectful preservation of submerged resources. The LIS-FUND booklet will server as an invitation to the public to take an active role in the discovery, interpretation and management of underwater resources.

Historically, the creation of preserves has engendered a high degree of local protectiveness. Although there will be thousands of copies of the Preserve booklets printed, the entire booklet will also be electronically transferred to the State Parks Department and OSA for posting on UCONN's Museum of Natural History underwater archaeology website. The website, established through previous LIS-FUND assistance is:

Cece Saunders is President of Historical Perspectives, Inc., a Westport consulting firm.