Shipwreck: outdoor laboratory for learning

East Carolina University student Kathryn Lee Cooper - NPS photo

By Bob Janiskee - National Park Traveler

The remains of the shipwrecked schooner Laura Barnes will eventually end up in the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.

Meanwhile, the excavation and preservation processes provide important learning opportunities for a group of budding archaeologists. 

North Carolina's Outer Banks region has been dubbed "the Graveyard of the Atlantic" because thousands of ships have wrecked there, falling victim to the treacherous shoals, tricky currents, and powerful storms that make this one of the most dangerous coasts in the world. Not surprisingly, shipwrecks are among the visitor attractions at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

To see some of these wrecks, you don't have to don scuba gear or even get in a boat. In the surf off Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, for example, you can see the exposed boiler and smokestack of the steamship Oriental, a Federal transport that ran aground in 1862.

On the north side of Oregon Inlet, low tide exposes the remains of the Lois Joyce, a 100-foot trawler that foundered during a December 1981 storm.

On the beach 14 miles south of the Oregon Inlet Campground and about 25 miles north of Buxton is a keel-up wooden shipwreck, all that remains of the Margaret A. Spencer (wreck date unknown). There are plenty of other wrecks along the beach and in the surf, some of them exposed only briefly during unusually low tides or after storms have heavily eroded the beaches.

One of the best known of the Cape Hatteras shipwrecks is the Laura A. Barnes, a four-masted schooner that foundered when it came ashore on Bodie Island during a heavy fog on the night of June 1, 1921.

After being pushed around by wind and waves, the wreck settled into the sand of Coquina Beach (about a mile south of its original location) during the 1970s.

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North Carolina Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum Outer Banks shipwrecked schooner Laura Barnes