The coastal areas of Cape Breton Island have held secrets for hundreds of years as military powers looked to stabilize their colonies and migrants yearned to begin a new life in the New World only to chart a course that prematurely ended so many lives on the rocky Atlantic shore.
Shipwreck charts are dotted with spots up and down the coastline of Nova Scotia, particularly its northern most point of Saint Paul Island in Cape Breton.
Underwater explorers Michael Gerhartz, Ronald Newcombe, and Harvey Morash are part of the Si-Tech Explorer Team from Atlantic Canada. Si-Tech is a Swedish drysuit and scuba gear manufacturer.
The team has spent several months preoccupied with a 1834 shipwreck on Cape Breton’s eastern coastline, near the community of Little Lorraine.
The Irish immigrant ship Astraea ran aground at night May 8, 1834, and quickly broke up, killing 248 people. There were only three survivors — a surgeon, a carpenter and a seaman.
Researching background on the ship, the team came across a diary entry from Dr. Jerome O’Sullivan, one of the survivors of the shipwreck, and a letter written by the priest who oversaw the recovery of the bodies.
The documents are held in trust at the Beaton Institute at Cape Breton University.
Only tiny pieces of scattered timber, iron and brass remain of the wreckage after years of ocean currents and saltwater taking a toll on the debris.
In June, the explorer team dived 30 metres down to the site of the Astraea to lay a plaque on the ocean floor in memory of the people who died aboard the ship.