When underwater photographer Nina Banks felt her camera slip from her grasp and float away during a dive off Cayman Brac, she thought it was gone for good.
Nine months later, after a 1,200 mile journey, the camera washed up on a beach in Texas during a storm. Its case was weather worn and so encrusted in barnacles that the man who discovered it, Tom Linton, initially mistook it for a coconut.
Amazingly, when he opened the case, the camera was still intact. The photographs of sunny beach scenes and coral reefs ultimately led him, with the assistance of local detectives, to the original owner, retired nurse Ms Banks.
Mr. Linton is planning a cruise to the Cayman Islands later this month, where the camera will complete its amazing round-trip, back into the hands of its owner.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would get that camera back. That someone could find it all the way in Galveston and figure out who it belonged to, it’s just amazing,” she said.
“To think that it travelled 1,200 miles and found its way back. It’s so funny, what a story.”
Mr. Linton said he scrubbed the case for half an hour and was amazed to find the camera still intact and displaying images.
“All of this was white, white sand, blue water. Not Galveston,” he told reporters in the U.S., laughing at the comparison between the brown sand and greenish water characteristic of Texas beaches.
Unable to pinpoint the exact location, he contacted Galveston detective Rick McCullor, who used police technology to zoom in on a slideshow in the backdrop of one of the pictures. The slideshow was for a Cayman Brac tourism event.
“I got a call from someone at the Department of Tourism, saying they had been sent these pictures and that I was in them,” Ms Banks said. “Did I know anyone who had lost a camera?
“I couldn’t stop laughing, I just couldn’t believe it.”
The camera had been lost during a dive on the north shore of the Brac in December 2012.
Its nine-month journey to Galveston is now helping researchers at Texas A&M University confirm theories on the movement of seaweed and how that path could be linked to hurricanes.
“It’s like a message in a bottle,” said Capt. Robert Webster, one of the scientists involved in studying the massive amounts of sticky, grimy Sargassum seaweed that wash up on the Texas coast.
The researchers have been tracking the seaweed partly to help predict, with the help of NASA satellite images, large landings of the marine-bound grass on Texas beaches. By doing this, the scientists hope to also help unravel the mysteries behind why storms behave the way they do.