Beauty, adventure and thievery

From National Parks Traveler

Deep in south Florida lies a collection of islands so unique and exotic, one might compare them to precious stones on a lady's necklace.

Set among this string of jewels known as the Florida Keys lies a particularly appealing gem: an underwater national park.

Biscayne National Park lies 95 percent underwater, and contains stunningly intricate coral reefs, an array of fascinating sealife, and 55 shipwreck sites.

Alongside these sites are 33 additional submerged archaeological sites that range from sunken cargoes and artifacts to even colonial anchors moored in the seabed absent their ships.

But this alluring national park does not always attract pleasant visitors. Plagued by looters, the park constantly must spend extra time and money to keep criminals away from plundering the shipwrecks.

The shipwreck “English China,” nicknamed for its abundant English ceramic artifacts, sank in the late 1760s.

The first groups of people to visit this sunken beauty were called ‘wreckers.’ These were men who would brave the troubled seas, particularly around the Florida Keys. Not only would they come to the rescue of crews on foundered ships, but afterwards they would return to salvage what they could of the wreck’s remains.

Such ‘wreckers’ probably obtained much of the ship’s valuable cargo in the 1760s, leaving only the scraps and pieces -- but this does not deter modern-day looters from trying their luck. Charles Lawson, Biscayne’s staff archaeologist and cultural resource manager, says these latter-day pirates are most likely unsuccessful in their scavenging.

But they nevertheless do damage to the site.

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