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‘Ghost fleet’ offers treasure trove of wildlife, history in the Potomac (Photos)

Hidden beneath the waters of the Potomac River are dozens of sunken ships known as a "ghost fleet" that sailed from the Revolutionary War to after World War I.

NANJEMOY, Md. — Hidden beneath the waters of the Potomac River are dozens of sunken ships known as a “ghost fleet” that sailed from the Revolutionary War to after World War I, and now, thanks to the Chesapeake Conservancy, the public can experience these underwater ships and the unique ecosystem that has grown around them from their desktops.

The conservancy has teamed up with Terrain360, a Richmond, Virginia, company, to take panoramic shots of Mallows Bay and the more than 100 shipwrecks located there, piecing them together to create a virtual tour of the bay that you can find here.

The bay, tucked along the shores of the Potomac River in Charles County, Maryland, is home to the largest collection of historic shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere. But the sunken ships have also created a marine habitat full of fish, birds and other wildlife, which the conservancy hopes to protect.

Visitors to the bay will spot an engine rising from the mist. Trees growing from the hull of a sunken ship seem to form an island that’s shaped like a ship. And the rusty hull of another ship can be seen rising above the waterline further out from the shore. Nearby is a menhaden fishing boat dating to the 1940s that was used during World War II.

On a recent trip, Terrain360’s Ryan Abrahamson sat on a small, custom-made pontoon boat and tapped a touch screen, controlling the camera’s fisheye lens sitting high above the water’s surface on a pole.

The company used six cameras to take photos every 50 feet in order to create the panoramic shots.

The company has already created similar virtual tours of the Susquehanna River, which — like the Potomac — also feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, and plans to captures images of the entire Chesapeake Bay shoreline next summer.

Don Shomette, who wrote a book on Mallows Bay, says more than 80 ships were scrapped and then sunk in the years following World Wars I and II. Another vessel lying in the watery graveyard was used by the Coast Guard and once could be spotted tied up at Alexandria.

While there is no financial treasure here, the ships represent a treasure trove of history, Shomette says.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration advanced an application to name the area of the bay and adjacent river as a national marine sanctuary, which would preserve and protect the 14-square-mile area.

The sanctuary would be one of the smallest in the nation. On the Virginia side, it would stretch from near Aquia Creek to Quantico.

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