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March 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Can Someone Give Us the GPS Coordinates to This Dive Site?

a true South Seas paradise, with top-notch dive spots

from the March, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Scuba divers have discovered a primeval underwater forest 10 miles off Alabama's coast. The bald cypress forest was buried under ocean sediments, protected in an oxygen-free environment for more than 50,000 years, but was likely uncovered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Ben Raines, one of the first divers to explore the underwater forest and the executive director of the nonprofit Weeks Bay Foundation, which researches estuaries. The forest contains trees so well-preserved that when they are cut, they still smell like fresh cypress sap. The cypress tree stumps span an area of at least half a mile, several miles from the city of Mobile, and sit about 60 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

Raines was talking with a friend who owned a dive shop about a year after Hurricane Katrina. The owner confided that a local fisherman had found a site teeming with fish and wildlife. Suspecting something big was hidden below, he went down himself to explore, found a forest of trees, then told Raines about his find. But because divers often take artifacts, he refused to disclose the location for many years. Finally in 2012, he revealed the site's location after swearing Raines to secrecy. Raines then did his own dive and discovered a primeval cypress swamp in pristine condition.

"You just feel like you're in this fairy world," Raines said in an interview with LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet. "These trees are covered in anemones and crabs and shrimp - and then you have these huge clouds of red snapper and grouper following you around. I was down there one day swimming along the ledge where the biggest stumps are, and I turned around and there was this huge funnel shape of fish behind me. It must have been 200 snapper, and they were just following me around. When I stopped, they would stop. When I turned around, they all fell in behind me. And the triggerfish, will actually come up and chew on your camera. You have to shoo them away. They just seem to have no fear."

Despite its recent discovery, the underwater landscape has just a few years to be explored, before woodburrowing marine animals destroy the ancient forest. Raines's team is applying for research grants to explore it before that happens. But they're staying mum about their find, not giving out the GPS coordinates of the anchoring location. All we know is that the trees run along a small dropoff south of the Fort Morgan, and they follow the remains of an ancient river channel that runs to the north, toward the modern-day Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

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