Dr. Charles Beeker, Director of the Academic Diving Program and Underwater Science Program in the Department of Kinesiology, has been a dedicated diver and underwater researcher for over 40 years. When Beeker began diving in the early 1960’s the historic shipwrecks he explored and their artifacts were there for the taking. When legislation passed in the late 1980’s categorized ownership of such sites to the government, treasure hunters who had made a living in the states moved south to the Caribbean where fewer restrictions were in place.
Dedicated to preserving the history of underwater shipwrecks and artifacts, Beeker has been a leader in the development of underwater museums over the past 20 years. His involvement began in 1989 when he played a key role in establishing the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park in the Florida Keys, but he’s since shifted his focus to encouraging Caribbean countries where treasure hunting has become more popular to follow suit. While typically shipwrecks are valued for their historical significance and have been raised with the intent of display in local museums, Beeker believes in preserving the history where it is found. Such Living Museums are designed to allow snorkelers and divers to not only view the wrecks and artifacts, but to understand their historical significance within their current environment.
In December of 2012, Beeker conducted an underwater field school in the Dominican Republic, educating SPH students to the importance of preserving the shipwrecks and artifacts. Exploring an area of the coast of a small beach known as La Caleta, Beeker led the students in excavating an area near a site believed to be from the Nuestra Sedonia Begoñ, a Spanish ship that was enroute to Venezuela at the time of its sinking. In addition to gaining technical skills related to recovering and preserving artifacts, students walked away with a better understanding of how local communities, culture, and government are all intertwined in the conservation of such historical sites.
While combatting the treasure hunters is a never-ending battle for Beeker, he’s ensuring that another generation of professionals will be ready to continue to fight to preserve history both domestically and abroad in the future.