Diver Harold Conyers discovered the submerged root this summer off North Shore. *Photo supplied
Diver Harold Conyers discovered the submerged root this summer off North Shore. *Photo supplied
1
2

THURSDAY, NOV. 24: Local divers have discovered what appears to be a Bermuda Cedar tree root still planted in its original location - 53 feet deep on North Shore.

The Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and the Department of Conservation Services within the Ministry of Public Works has teamed up with the local divers to further study the root and have taken samples for testing to determine the age of the stump.

The root was discovered by Mr. Harold Conyers, an avid diver, well known local architect and Chairman of the Historic Wreck Authority, while diving with Triangle Diving this summer.

Mr. Conyers discovered what he thought might be a tree root on the ocean floor adjacent to a tall coral reef ledge some nine miles to the north of Bermuda in 53 feet of water.

Mr. Conyers explained: “At first I thought it might be a piece of a wooden shipwreck just emerging from the sand and wedged up against the undersea coral cliff. This of course piqued my interest – but upon closer inspection it was clearly recognizable as a piece of a tree – a tree stump and root in fact.

“There was a central area with worn tree rings where the trunk once stood and what looked like roots spanning out from the center much like the remnants of the cedar forests that once dominated Bermuda that we still see in undeveloped coastal areas. Tree roots on occasion can and do get swept out to sea and can be found wedged under rocks after hurricanes but this seemed different to me – it did not look like it had tumbled there but that it was in situ, that it had grown there.”

After contacting Mr. Teddy Tucker at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, who discovered submerged cedar roots in the east end of the island around Gurnett Rock many years ago, and Dr Philippe Rouja at the Department of Conservation Services, a dive trip was organized with Triangle Diving to relocate, inspect and determine if it might be an in situ tree stump and then sample it if possible.

Last month the team made up of the divers form Triangle Diving accompanied Mr. Tucker, Dr Rouja, Mr. Conyers and a few lucky tourists who opted to accompany the explorers, made their way on the Triangle dive boat and relocated the root.

Dr. Rouja said: “A new discovery is always exciting, especially one as potentially relevant as this. The anticipation that it might be an in situ root at a new and significantly deeper depth nine miles off shore had everyone ready to jump in and get a good look. It was immediately clear that the root was potentially in situ and it was decided to take a sample and bring it back for analysis.”

The divers worked to cut sections of the root and took two samples to the surface where it was discovered that the inside of the root was well preserved and still held the unique Bermuda cedar smell, and, interestingly, the outside of the wood was charred in the same manner as previous samples taken from Gurnett Rock. 

Mr. Tucker said: “This is potentially a very important find. It is the deepest sample we have to date and if we can get a clean radiocarbon date it will help us establish where the sea level had not yet reached at a given time. We could speculate that it will be significantly older than the roots submerged at Gurnett rock in 35 feet but as with all things on the Ocean I am prepared to be surprised.

“If the date is close to that at Gurnett rock then it could suggest that sea level rates were rising much faster 10,000 years ago than we had previously thought. Regardless of what date comes back we will have another confirmed point to help us reconstruct Bermuda’s sea level history – a history that scientists consider to be an important benchmark for sea level rise in the Atlantic.”

Mr. Tucker explained that Bermuda’s unique Mid-Atlantic position makes the island the ideal place from which to carry out marine and ocean research, not just because of the ease of access to deep water and the cost effectiveness of running projects from here but also because of Bermuda’s unique geologic and biological history.

Since 1997, BUEI has worked with Steve Blasco from the Bedford Institute looking at Sea Level rise around Bermuda.

The research began when Mr. Tucker discovered a drowned cedar forest 35 feet under water near Gurnett Rock and brought it to the attention of his colleague, Professor Blasco. These first radio carbon samples revealed that the cedar stumps had been alive (and above water) some 7,290 years ago (+/- 60 years).

With these results in hand it was determined that Bermuda would be an ideal sea level rise gauge and BUEI and Bedford engaged in an in-depth sea level project. The Bermuda Government, through the Department of Conservation Services, began partnering with BUEI in this important research in 2005.

Mr. Tucker explained: “The North American continent has varying degrees of tectonic instability but their massive weight creates a downward pressure on the land that accounts to varying degrees for some part of observed sea level rise. Isolated at sea at the center of a tectonic plate and small in size Bermuda has less of these complicating factors and is therefore uniquely placed to act as an accurate measuring device to calculate past rates of sea level rise.

“Past is not always prologue but without accurate measures, especially from the last 10,000 years, it is difficult to project what we can expect in terms of sea level rise going forward.”

Defining and understanding the last 10,000 years of sea level change is critical because it speaks directly to the relative rate of sea level rise.

Dr. Rouja explained: “For example, has sea level been smoothly and incrementally coming up over this time? Has it been coming up in a series of evenly spaced bigger jumps with occasional regress or has the rate increased exponentially in the last 1,000, 500 or 100 years? This latest find may well add yet another critical piece to the puzzle so we can better understand sea level rise.”

The cedar root sample has been sent to Professor Blasco at the Bedford Institute who will carry out radiocarbon date testing over the coming months.

Once the results are confirmed the team will be further documenting the root to see what else can be learned about the site in particular.

Dr. Rouja said: “If we get a firm date and confirm this cedar stump is in situ it could be an opportunity for coral reef specialists to develop a deeper understanding of how these tall coral reef structures came to be formed over a specific time period- specifically how they came to be formed as sea levels were rising – questions that many coral dominated coastlines are asking.”

The discovery not only has fascinating and important scientific implications, but also helps promote Bermuda to visitors interested in scientific aspects of ocean ecology and history.

Graham Mattox of Triangle Diving said: “We pride ourselves on caring very deeply about our ocean and strive to make the experience of every visitor who dives with us not only unique but educational.  We feel that there is a significant niche for creating experiential diving opportunities that bring people into the world of ocean research and science and we are extremely pleased to be a part of this discovery and integrate it into our diving business activities.

"I know that the visitors who were on board that day had a great time and will certainly be following with particular interest the science story that follows.  Integrating the motivated visitor in our most interesting activities can only benefit our reputation abroad and help brand us as the premier Atlantic dive destination that we are.”

Mr. Tucker added: “Once the Bedford Institute has processed the samples and the radiocarbon test results are in, we will put them into the context of the previous measures and share the data with the people of Bermuda and local and foreign scientists involved in oceanography. If this root does prove to be in situ it is likely to become a story of global significance, furthering our knowledge of sea level rise during the past 10 millennia and, perhaps, providing greater insight to what the future may hold.”