Beach erosion from Tropical Storm Eta unearthed remnants of an 1800s shipwreck in Florida

After Tropical Storm Eta swept across northern Florida earlier this month, a beachgoer made a discovery while walking on the shore in St. Augustine.

What Mark O’Donoghue spotted peeking through the sand dunes of Crescent Beach were timbers likely belonging to a shipwreck dating back to the 1800s, according to a news release from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program.

The program is the work of a team of researchers who have helped to identify several shipwrecks discovered in the area.

Team members have begun inspecting and documenting the findings with the help of college students at Flagler College. They believe the timbers are likely from the Caroline Eddy — an American merchant ship.

“Everything we’ve seen on it so far fits that hypothesis; wooden planking, wood timbers, iron fasteners,” said Chuck Meide, director of the organization, in the release.”They look quite similar to other ships from the 1800s that we have seen.”

Eta’s fourth landfall

Hurricane Eta, the 28th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, left a trail of destruction that spanned several countries early this month when the storm made four separate landfalls. On November 3, Eta made landfall in Central America as a Category 4 hurricane. It re-entered the Caribbean Sea and slammed into Cuba on November 8 and then into Florida’s Lower Matecumbe Key as a tropical storm.

Eta then moved into the Gulf of Mexico and made its second Florida landfall on November 12, just south of Cedar Key, roughly a 130-mile drive northwest of Tampa. The storm swept across northern Florida and moved out into the Atlantic Ocean.

In St. Augustine, the storm caused extreme high tides with some coastal flooding and beach erosion at Fort Matanzas National Monument, according to the National Park Service. The erosion lead to the discovery of the shipwreck that researchers think are the remains of the Caroline Eddy.

“In late August 1880 the Caroline Eddy left Fernandina bound for New York with a cargo of lumber,” according to a Facebook post from the NPS. “She sailed into a hurricane, was driven south and went ashore near Matanzas. Her crew survived after clinging to the rigging for two days and a night.”

Over 70% of all known historic shipwrecks lost in Florida are merchant vessels that were moving goods from one port to another along the Atlantic coast, according to the researchers.

“Florida’s maritime past is America’s story as the nation’s oldest port dating back to the Spanish landing in 1565,” said Kathy Fleming, executive director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, in the release.

“The St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program is committed to saving our maritime history and passing these stories on to our future generations.”

The research team is continuing to document and take samples of the timbers and iron work but the wreckage will not be completely excavated. Due to the high cost of excavation, researchers are hoping to preserve the wreckage by getting permission from the state to mark off the area from visitors, according to The St. Augustine Record newspaper.

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