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'Shipwreck Hunter' David Mearns To Speak In St. Petersburg

May 6, 2019

In 1986, David Mearns received his Master’s degree in Marine Geology from the University of South Florida College of Marine Science.

Since then, he's become one of the world's most renowned shipwreck hunters, with 25 discoveries and three world records, including one for the deepest shipwreck ever found.

He'll return to St. Petersburg for a free presentation at the Mahaffey Theater Tuesday night.

Speaking shortly before receiving receive the President’s Global Leadership Award at USF’s commencement ceremony this past Saturday night, Mearns said, while finding a historic wreck is fulfilling, so is the work that goes into the discovery.

"You can also achieve the same feeling and same sense of achievement and satisfaction in the planning phases, or specifically in the research phases, when you're in archives are looking for historical information that is the pointer to where the shipwreck is,” he said. “I mean, that's the first law of shipwreck hunting…you have to search in the right place.”

And that research is extremely important, as it takes up a bulk of Mearns’ time.

“Most of my work, ten months out of the year, is in libraries and reading books and reading archives, and only two months of the year, we're lucky enough to be able to go to see and do the exciting bit,” he said.

Among Mearns’ most well-known discoveries are those of the British World War II warship, the H.M.S Hood, and a ship from Vasco da Gama's fleet that sank in 1503—believed to be the oldest colonial vessel from Europe’s Age of Discovery to ever be found.

“Because it's so old, we're allowed to actually recover the artifacts (from that ship) to be able to put them in a museum,” said Mearns. “This is not treasure hunting—this is archaeological research to put it in (a) museum.”

“You can't beat finding a 500-year-old gold coin, or a 500 year-old-bell, or a 500-year-old astrolabe, which is the only one in the world of that age. This is a very cool thing,” he added.

During Tuesday night’s talk, Mearns will share stories about these discoveries, as well as the thrill that comes with them.

"Just give people a sense of that adventure. But leading up to it this great sort of detective story of where we're going to find the shipwreck, and what's the mystery about it that we want to uncover and provide answers to people,” he said.

Mearns speaks at the Mahaffey Theater at 7 p.m. Tuesday. While admission is free, people need to register by visiting this link.  The event is sponsored by the OPEN Partnership Education Network at USFSP, which provides support to WUSF Public Media.