When ocean explorer Robert Ballard stumbled across the resting place of the Titanic on September 1, 1985, it was in almost perfect condition. 30 years later, thanks to time, visitors and salvagers, the wreck is crumbling. But new developments could bring hope to those who want to see the unsinkable ship preserved.
Since Ballard’s discovery, archaeologists, salvagers and tourists descended on the Titanic’s final resting place in search of artifacts and souvenirs. As Brian Handwerk wrote for National Geographic in 2010, while shipworms and iron-eating microbes are feasting on the ship’s hull, thousands of artifacts have been legally salvaged from the shipwreck over the years, it’s unknown how many might have been nabbed by looters. At the time, Ballard said it appeared that some damage to the ship was due to submersibles hitting the wreckage.
“Most of the destruction is being done by humans that are landing on it. The hull itself is very strong and the bow section is embedded deep in the bottom, which is holding the ship together,” Ballard tells Jane J. Lee for National Geographic.
One of the reasons the Titanic has been so hard to preserve is that it is resting two miles beneath the surface in international waters. However, thanks to the 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, the Titanic became a UNESCO historical site in 2012, giving preservationists new legal recourse to protect and possibly restore the ship’s remains. Additionally, Canada is seeking to extend its underwater borders 200 miles out along the continental shelf, which the wreckage is resting on, Lee reports. If the United Nations accepts the proposal, Canada will be able to claim the Titanic and could open the doors to restoring the site.
Ballard tells Lee that it wouldn't actually be a huge undertaking to save the ship. “It's not technology. It certainly wouldn't [cost] millions. [The] price tag would be in line with preservation and conservation of buildings.”
While Ballard waits to see if this latest effort to restore the Titanic bears fruit, the anniversary of his discovery has excited history buffs around the world. On September 30, an original luncheon menu from the day before the ship sunk will be auctioned off by Lion Heart Autographs, Nick Mafi reports for Architectural Digest. The menu, which shows that the ship’s wealthiest passengers dined on dishes like grilled mutton chops, galantine of chicken and Norweigian anchovies, is expected to sell for between $50,000 – $70,000. In 2012, another menu sold for about $120,000.
If historical artifacts aren’t enough, three separate people recently announced they were busy building life-sized replicas of the Titanic. As Claire McNeilly reports for The Belfast Telegraph, there will be three new Titanics for tourists to visit: a luxury hotel and casino in the Northern Mariana Islands, an attraction at a 19th century-themed amusement park in China’s Sichuan Province and the “Titanic II,” a fully operational vessel that its financial backer, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, says will set sail in 2018.
Hopefully, all three replicas have learned a lesson from their namesake.