Two underwater graveyards

Along the cove named Mallows Bay, the Potomac River flows placid and undisturbed. It’s been doing that for more than two million years, you’ll have to forgive if the river doesn’t seem much impressed.
Its fresh and rich waters glide along the banks, caressing the hulls of hundreds of submerged ships. Yes, because in this underwater graveyard at least 230 sunken ships lay on the bottom of the river — a surreal tribute, here in Maryland, 30 miles south of Washington DC, a memento of a war among “featherless bipeds”, and of a military strategy that proved disastrous.

On April the 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson called Americans to arms against imperial Germany. This meant carrying dietary, human and military resources across the Atlantic Ocean, which was infested by German submarines. And supporting an army overseas meant to build the most majestic fleet in the history of mankind. In february 1917, engineer Frederic Eustis proposed an apparently irreproachable plan to lower costs and solve the problem: the construction of wooden ships, cheaper and faster to assemble than iron ships; a fleet so vast as to outnumber the inevitable losses due to submarines, thus able to bring food and weapons to European shores.
But, amidst beaurocratic and engineering delays, the project ironically did not hold water right from the start. Deadlines were not met, and in October 1918 only 134 wooden ships were completed; 263 were half-finished. When Germany surrendered on November 11th, not a single one of these ships had left port.

A legal battle to assert responsibilities ensued, as only 98 of the 731 commissioned ship had been delivered; and even these showed a weak and badly built structure, proving too small and costly to carry long-distance cargo. The maintenance costs for this fleet soon became excessive, and it was decided to cut out the entire operation, sinking the ships where they stood, one by one.

Today Mallows Bay harbours hundreds of fallen ships, which in time turned into a sort of natural reef, where a florid ecosystem thrives. As they were made of wood, these ships are by now part of the river’s habitat, and host algae and microorganisms that will in time erase this wartime folly, by turning it into a part of Potomac itself.
Mallows Bay is the largest ship graveyard in Western Hemisphere. As for the Eastern one, we should look for Truk (or Chuuk) Lagoon in Micronesia.

Here, during the course of another bloody war, WWII, hundreds of airplanes and other Japanese outposts were taken down during the so-called Hailstone operation.

On February 17, 1944, hell broke loose over this peaceful tropical lagoon, when US airforce sunk 50 Japanese ships and aorund 250 airplanes. At least 400 Japanese soldiers met their end here. Most of the fleet still remains in the place where it went down, under the enemy fire.

Foating on the surface of the lagoon’s clear waters, it is still possible to see the impressive structures of these wrecks; and several daredevils dive to explore the eerie panorama, where plane carcasses and battleship keels cover the ocean floor.

Rusted and sharp metal sheets, fluctuating cables and oil spills make the dive extremely dangerous. Yet this graveyard, the largest of its kind in the world, seems to offer an experience that is worth the risk. Among the bended metal of a by now ancient battle are still trapped the remains of those fighters Japan never managed to retrieve. Broken lives, terrible memories of a momentous conflict that claimed more victims than any other massacre.
And here, life flourished back again, covering the wrecks with luxurious corals and sea animals. As if to remind us that the world goes on anyway, never worrying about our fights, nor about the heroic victories we like to brag about.

(Thanks, Stefano Emilio!)


Il video seguente, segnalatoci da molti lettori di Bizzarro Bazar, oltre ad essere straordinario dal punto di vista scientifico, è davvero sublime, allo stesso tempo bellissimo e terribile. È stato girato da Hugh Miller e Doug Anderson per la serie di documentari della BBC “Frozen Planet“, e mostra la nascita di un brinicle, ossia una stalattite di ghiaccio che si forma negli oceani antartici: parte dal pelo dell’acqua e scende fino al fondale, portando con sé le temperature bassissime che stanno in superficie, e trasmettendo il gelo direttamente sul fondo. Questo “dito ghiacciato della morte” congela così tutte le creature che brulicano nei suoi paraggi. Il video è eccezionale perché è la prima volta che la formazione di un brinicle viene filmata.


Il vostro prossimo cucciolo – VIII

Pulito, simpatico da accudire e assolutamente innocuo se avete dei bambini: nessuna casa è completa se non ospita una Scotoplanes globosa, o almeno una Protelpidia murrayi!

Conosciute anche con il nomignolo inglese di sea pigs (porcellini di mare), queste due specie di cetrioli di mare si differenziano l’una dall’altra soprattutto per l’habitat in cui vivono. La Protelpidia abita nelle acque attorno all’Antartide, mentre la Scotoplanes si annida nei più profondi fondali abissali, a 6000 metri dalla superficie dell’acqua.

Possiedono diversi tubicini che hanno preso la forma di gambe “gonfiabili” a piacimento (sono gli unici cetrioli di mare in grado di usarli per la locomozione) e una grossa bocca per filtrare e mangiare i detriti che si depositano sul fondale.

Se ne voleste più di uno, potreste scoprire però una cosa curiosa: mano a mano che aggiungete nuovi maialini di mare al vostro acquario, diventano più piccoli. È stato scoperto infatti che le loro dimensioni variano a seconda della grandezza della colonia, così da rimpicciolirsi quando ci sono problemi di sovraffollamento.

Non si sa se siano creature sociali, anche se normalmente vengono trovate in branchi di diverse centinaia. Le correnti e/o la posizione favorevole per il cibo potrebbero averli spinti lì… ma il mistero rimane. Enigmatici, teneri e con un musetto irresistibile: che aspettate a procurarvene uno?