Dr. Frederick H. (“Fritz”) Hanselmann is an underwater archaeologist and on the faculty of the Department of Marine Ecosystems and Society, part of the Exploration Sciences Program at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami. There, he directs the Underwater Archaeology Program.
Having worked on underwater sites for years, his work ranges from submerged prehistoric deposits in springs and caves to historic shipwrecks in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the wreck of the Quedagh Merchant, abandoned by Captain Kidd in 1699 off the coast of Hispaniola.
He agreed to talk with Islander News about the world’s ocean.
IN: Key Colony’s beach is now healthier after its first nourishment, which has reportedly lessened the effects of rising sea levels. Do you believe we’re going at a good pace in that area, or should the island be taking bigger steps to lessen the brunt of rising sea levels?
Hanselmann: In terms of climate change and sea level rise, it behooves us to be proactive rather than reactive. So it would be a good idea to listen to what’s going on from scientific studies. For example, scientists at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami are looking at what we’re dealing with. Every year we have king tides. Every year the tide is higher, seasonally, and sea level rises are something we have to deal with.
And if we don’t do something about it now, in 20, 30, 50 years my kids -- my grandchildren -- are gonna have to deal with it. And it could be as drastic as Key Biscayne is underwater. If you look at, say, the Dry Tortugas, there are areas that were once dry land that are now submerged.
There’s a foundation of a hospital that was down near Fort Jefferson on Bird Key, and Bird Key is now underwater. It’s an island that doesn’t exist anymore because of sea level rise and climate change and warming temperatures. So it’s a real thing. The trick is to not politicize it and just accept the fact that the climate’s changing. You don't have to point fingers.
For us living here in Miami, especially Key Biscayne, it’s happening. The question is, “What are we going to do about it?”
IN: What do you think the relationship is between the daily life of your average Key Biscayne resident and the ocean? How do you think it affects their lives and how do you think they affect it in turn?
Hanselmann: Personally, (my family and I) moved here because we are water people. And we love the fact we can just walk to the beach. When I’m not busy, I try to go out and swim a while every day. My family comes out with me to the beach and we interact a lot with the water. We’re out boating, scuba diving, and just for recreation. A lot of people come here because of the beach, because of the water, because of the weather.
We have this really unique and also delicate relationship with the environment. We have to be careful how we use the resources --everything from not using single use plastic bags to understanding where our wastewater goes, and what happens when we have rains and there’s flooding. So how do we look at sustainably living here, and enjoying the resources, but also taking care of what we love?”
IN: On a more personal note, how has COVID-19 affected your career as a professor and an underwater archeologist?
Hanselmann: Well, it has not been friendly as far as the ability to travel goes. While our ship project in Mexico and another cave project in the Bahamas have been postponed … one of the things that is advantageous to living here (is) there are historic shipwrecks here locally. So while I haven't been able to do a lot of my international research,
I’m still able to work with the National Park Service and the Florida Keys National Sanctuary. We’re using arial sensors coupled with a drone in order to test the technology and see if you can locate a shipwreck flying a drone.
The University of Miami has actually done, in my opinion, the best job possible to mitigate the virus and stay open and have classes by following CDC guidelines with social distancing and masks. It’s not fun to give a two and a half hour lecture on archaeological theory with a mask, but it's better than the alternative.
The fact we can still conduct business is something we shouldn’t take for granted.
Isabel Papp is an 8th grader at Palmer Trinity and an intern with Islander News.