The federal government updated guidelines protecting historical sites on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, shipwrecks that date back as far as the 17th century.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates there are more than 2,100 historic shipwrecks in the Gulf’s federal waters.
A 1966 law requires that the bureau guide oil-and-gas companies drilling in the outer continental shelf to assure archeological sites are preserved.
Frank Cantelas, a marine archaeologist with the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, likened the ships to “time capsules.
They’re a finite cultural resource,” he said. “Somehow, a ship tragically sank and captured that moment, and it offers a glimpse of how people were living at a particular time.
The update, issued Thursday, adds new portions of the ocean floor that are considered likely locations for shipwrecks. Those designated blocks of ocean floor require surveys and archaeological reports prior to drilling.
A statement released by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau says the update was prompted by “new information, recent discoveries and advances in hydrographic survey technology.
The government periodically updates its notice, but the changes signify a gradual shift in the way the bureau protects historic underwater sites, according to Robert Church, a marine archaeologist with C&C Technologies, a Lafayette-based survey company.