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An International Corps of Exploration: My Interview With Tufan Turanli

Liz Smith / Ocean Exploration Trust

Before we disembarked in Istanbul, Tufan Turanli and I had a nice talk about his role in Nautilus’ mission and his future plans for undersea archeology in the region.

Though he may not be as well known in the West, Tufan’s work in archeology, and his efforts to bring that work to the people of Turkey, has made him a celebrity in this part of the world.  When we spent some time at port in Sinop, the local news spent over half an hour interviewing with him from the deck of Nautilus.  At one point, Tufan was holding two microphones and standing with two camera men as he conducted two interviews at once!

Tufan has been working with Dr. Robert Ballard since before Nautilus began operations in the Black Sea.  He helped with the planning of the very first mission, and (as you can learn from his highlight video) he has been indispensable in securing the necessary permits for all the missions in Turkish waters.

I asked Tufan if he was interested in going with Nautilus if her exploration takes her to the Caribbean next season.  He told me that he would be staying in Turkey to continue his work exploring and elucidating the maritime history of that region.  Tufan indicated that he and Dr. Ballard have discussed the idea of a second, Nautilus-like vessel which could continue to operate in the Black Sea and the surrounding waters.  Though he is very pleased with the number of discoveries Nautilus has already made, he sees every new find as one more reason to stay in the area even longer.  As he puts it, “more wrecks mean more questions!”

In the meantime, he is working on a very exciting idea of his own as well.  Tufan is planning to use the STS Bodrum, a 37 meter (121 foot) sailing vessel, to take students on a guided tour of the Black Sea’s important historical and archeological sites.  The project, called “The History of Anatolian Seafaring,” would involve students from all over the world following the original trade routes and visiting the ancient ports of the region.  In addition to lending a hand with the rigging, students would spend time with scholars and experts who would teach them all about the sites they were visiting.  The plan also calls for deploying ROVs to examine some of the known wreck sites.

The ship could accommodate approximately fourteen students, but using a technology similar to what’s deployed on Nautilus, Tufan wants to share the experience with everyone via the internet.  Students who follow the cruise on line would not only see images from the archeological sites, but they could also attend the experts’ presentations remotely.  Ultimately, Tufan is envisioning a system by which the virtual participants could take an on-line test on the material, and those who score the highest would have an opportunity to go on future trips.  After the exploration of the Black Sea, the plan would be to expand operations to include the seas off of Greece, Italy, and even Spain.

I told Tufan that this sounded like a fantastic opportunity, and that he would have no trouble finding students who wanted to take part in his program.  I also pointed out that, in addition to the experts who would visit the ship as it cruised from port to port, he would also need an educator who was already familiar with this sort of project who could to stay on the ship full-time!