What lies beneath…Underwater Preserve group kicks off formation with first of several interactive projects

TRAVERSE CITY – After more than 20 years of being submerged in red tape and obstacles, the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve will officially surface on Oct. 27 at the Maritime Academy in Traverse City.

The Preserve is both an organization and a place set aside for divers to discover the history of the Great Lakes.

"It's a pretty exciting time for our group," said Jack Spencer, whose group will become the state's 12th underwater preserve. "We've been working toward this goal since the 1980s and now it has come to fruition."

What exactly helped the group reach its goal?

"The leadership we got from Greg MacMaster, plus all the people that chipped in to help," said Spencer. "We dreamed of this day and now it's here."

There are many goals outlined by the group, but it is most excited about a new type of educational platform that helps students learn through a comprehensive interactive program.

"It's unique and never been accomplished before," said Spencer. "The program doesn't require you to be a diver or ever get wet. It's available to all ages, six or 96 years old."

The interactive project will be the first in a series of projects by the group to comprehensively document underwater cultural resources in Grand Traverse Bay. It will use collaboration between divers and non-divers to promote interest and support of Michigan's shipwrecks and other underwater resources.

The Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Council will offer the educational program to link students with scientific and expert resources in underwater archeology.

One of those resources is Dr. Mark Holley, a member of the Underwater Preserve group and one of only two people in the U.S. qualified to do underwater archeology. Holley is also an instructor at NMC.

"The other certified person teaches at Texas A & M, so that means NMC is in some pretty fast company when it comes to this kind of study," said Spencer. "We're fortunate to have Dr. Holley."

Holley teaches a course at NMC called Underwater Archeology, Beginning Certification for Divers and Non-Divers. Students in his class can become qualified to participate in new discoveries underwater by taking this entry-level Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) class.

Holley teaches the need for conservation and preservation of the underwater cultural heritage, both in a pool setting and on land. It's a three-class course that will take place on three Mondays, Oct. 20, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 from 6-9 p.m. in the Great Lakes Campus room 211. The cost is $115.

But Dr. Holley's class is only one of many educational programs that will be provided to the community by the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve.

"Our goal is to educate the community – from K-12 to the college to everyone else who is interested," said Spencer.

Operation Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Interactive will use the latest high-tech underwater video and communications systems to broadcast an interactive educational program to the students on the surface. In addition, members of the group will be available for presentations on underwater archeology and maritime history by expert educators, historians, writers and experienced divers.

There's also a membership drive by the Underwater Preserve group. Student memberships cost $15 a year and individual memberships are $35. A family membership (up to four family members) is $50 and a lifetime membership for two family members is $600. All donations, the group notes, are 100 percent tax deductible.

The memberships provide discounts on logo merchandise, discounts at the Dive Shop and a quarterly e-mail newsletter.

More information can be obtained at the group's web site, www.gtbup.org.

The official ceremony opening the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve on Oct. 27 will coincide with the 2008 National Submerged Lands Management Conference at the Hagerty Center on Oct. 26-29. BN