National Geographic : 2004 Dec
(Continuedfrom page 100) I'd urged others to treat Titanic's remains with dig nity, like that shown the battleship Arizona in Pearl Harbor. Instead they'd turned her into a freak show at the county fair. To make matters worse, some of these vis its were reportedly damaging Titanic. In order to see for myself, I teamed up with Capt. Craig McLean, director of ocean exploration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to co-sponsor an expedition. For the past few years NOAA had been quietly working to create an inter national treaty to protect Titanic. I believed our expedition could contribute to that effort by surveying the ship's current con dition. (As it turned out, the U.S. signed a treaty with Great Britain only two weeks after we visited the wreck site.) Besides weathering the impact of human visitors, Titanic has suffered from natural decay. Communities of iron-eating bacte ria are consuming her hull. I'd even read a report theorizing that fishing on the Grand Banks has so diminished fish stocks that uneaten plankton is falling on the ship, feed ing the microbes. The best way to assess such impacts would be to carry out the kind LONG GOODBYE Helped along by human interference or not, Titanicwill one day disappear, perhaps deteriorating on the schedule (below) laid out by microbiolo gist Roy Cullimore, who has studied the ship's decline. He estimates that growths of bacteria and fungi, nicknamed "rus ticles" because they resemble icicles, are sapping a hundred or more pounds of iron from the wreck each day. -F- Lcr of disciplined mapping effort that oceanog raphers do best. And so now we were back with Hercules, our newest robotic vehicle, gliding a few meters off Titanic's famous bow. When the luxury liner had smashed into the bottom, her bow had pushed up a great wave of mud, as if she was still under steam trying to complete her maiden voyage to New York. It surprised me, at first, how little had changed on the bow, the best preserved part of Titanic. The stern section, by contrast, is a twisted pile of rusted wreckage, having imploded as it spiraled to the bottom. But now as Hercules passed over the fore deck, I spotted a black blemish on the for ward anchor boom that may have been caused by the glancing blow of a passing submersible. Just aft of the number one car go hold I saw three separate submersible landing sites. I'd landed not far from here myself in 1986 in Alvin, a three-person sub mersible operated by the Woods Hole Ocean ographic Institution, before I became aware of the possible effects of such contact. The damage to the steel deck was obvious, bright yellowish blotches of fractured iron with a central black oval that exposed new hull plating to bacterial attack. I was curious to see what had happened to the crow's nest, from which 24-year-old lookout Frederick Fleet had shouted, "Ice berg right ahead!" I suspected the worst. The last time I'd seen the crow's nest in 1986, it was dented but still clinging to the foremast. I'd heard rumors that it was now gone. And sure enough, when we passed over the mast, which was collapsed on the deck, there was no sign of the crow's nest, which had prob ably fallen through a hatch into the hull. Farther aft we found new damage to the captain's quarters and the chief officer's quarters. Photographs by the Russian subs Mir I and II in 2003 had revealed deterio ration along the side of the captain's quarters and the collapse of the bulkhead. Inside we saw the captain's bathtub, with its shiny brass faucets.