Eco-Photo Explorers

Exploring Long Island shipwrecks

By Alycia Broderick - Sayville Patch

Local scuba divers Christopher Weaver and Michael Salvarezza explored shipwrecks of Long Island with residents at the Sayville Library recently. From wartime ships to accidents and ships run aground, their presentation touched on some of the more interesting stories that took place in local waters.

The pair started a company called Eco-Photo Explorers, launched in 1994, to promote interest in protecting the environment through knowledge and awareness as well as underwater photography.

"We started to see some changes happening in the underwater environment and we wanted to help," Salvarezza said.

There are thousands of shipwrecks off the Long Island Coast and there is a story behind each of them. While offering just a sampling of the shipwrecks, Salvarezza touched on stories from the Revolutionary War to the modern day.

"One of the most dramatic reasons for a ship to sink is wartime activity," he said.

The story of the HMS Culloden is one example. The HMS Culloden was a 74 gun, third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched in 1776. It sank in January of 1781 and now sits underwater in what is known as Culloden Point, a few hundred yards offshore of Montauk.

A majority of the ship has been recovered, Salvarezza said.

The USS Ohio was built in 1820 and saw action in both the Mexican and American wars. In 1884, it was sold to a group of Long Islanders for scrap and intentionally sunk close to Greenport. The masthead from the USS Ohio, a Hercules figure, was removed before they sank the ship and still sits on Main Street's town square in Stony Brook.

The USS San Diego, launched in 1904, was part of Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet. It saw action in World War I but after a massive explosion it sank in 28 minutes 13 miles south of the Fire Island Lighthouse.

It was believed the explosion was caused by a mine left by a German warship. The ship now sits upside down and is a very popular site for scuba divers, marine life and artifacts.

There's also the story of the U-853, a German U-boat that attacked a U.S. boat 24 hours after a return-to-port-call was issued. It is settled seven miles east of Block Island.

There's also the Arundo, which sank in 1942 after being struck by a torpedo. It sits about 25 miles south of Rockaway Inlet and is a favorite wreck for fishermen. The Tanker Coimbra was sunk on January 15, 1942 by a torpedo from a German submarine.

It was carrying 81,000 barrels of oil. It's estimated that 28,000 barrels of oil are still within the wreck. "Is this a ticking time bomb?" Salvarezza asked.

"The Coast Guard has determined that is more dangerous to try to extract the oil than to let it slowly leak out. If you dive down there, you will notice the oil sheen hovering above the wreck."