The amazing journey of a lost camera that traveled on ocean currents from Cayman Brac to Texas is now being used to fuel research on seaweed movements.
Underwater photographer Nina Banks lost the camera on a dive off the Brac in December last year. It was discovered nine months later, washed up on a beach in Galveston, by Tom Linton, a retired marine researcher from Texas A&M University.
The camera case was so encrusted in barnacles, he initially thought it was a coconut. Surprisingly, it was still in working order. With the help of local detectives, Mr. Linton was able to locate its owner in Cayman Brac.
Last week the camera made the return journey via cruise ship and was handed back to Ms Banks in person by Capt. Robert Webster, a former colleague of Mr. Linton at Texas A&M. He plans to use the story as part of his research.
The camera’s journey across the ocean and back into the hands of its owner originally attracted attention as an astonishing lost-and-found story.
But for Mr. Webster, the bigger coincidence is that it traveled 1,200 miles and found itself into the hands of the person who could use it the most.
His research focuses on the origins of the Sargassum that washes up on Galveston’s beaches, where it forms a soggy, unsightly mess that hampers the area’s tourist industry.
The research aims to help provide an early warning system that will allow park rangers to prepare for the seaweed invasion – an economic headache that costs parks officials in Galveston hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
Mr. Webster, a doctorate student at the university, said the camera’s journey confirmed theories that the seaweed was coming from the Caribbean, through the Gulf of Mexico, before being deposited on Galveston’s beaches.
“Until now it was just a theory, we didn’t have any proof. The journey of this camera is like us putting a tag on some Sargassum and tracking it from Cayman to Galveston. Coming back on the cruise ship to return the camera has given us the opportunity to retrace the journey in the opposite direction.
“This is something that is really positive for my research. What an unbelievable coincidence.”
He said Sargassum is a major problem for beach managers in Galveston. Sometimes so much of the seaweed is dumped on shore that it forms piles up to 8 feet high.
He said his research could help them plan in advance.
“If you wait until you see it coming in the surf, it is too late,” he added.
Ms Banks, who traveled from Cayman Brac to meet Mr. Webster and retrieve her camera, said, “It’s such a great story. I never thought I would see that camera again. It is just amazing that it is helping with this research.”