Discovery Science Treasure Quest takes you on board a search for shipwrecks with Greg Stemm

The interest began with reading about Jacques Cousteau and ocean exploration. Greg Stemm, Co-founder and CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration successfully combined his passion and his profession. He saw an interesting opportunity to use technology that had been developed to find in and study commercial and cultural resources under water.

The series “Treasure Quest,” gives viewers a front row seat on Odyssey's adventures. Greg talks about the series as well as all that goes into discovery and recovery of underwater treasures. Excerpts from the interview

Can you tell us Treasure Quest?

The ‘Discovery Science Treasure Quest' show basically gives people a front row seat to watch what happens on our ships. Over the years what people have wanted most of all is to accompany us on an expedition to see what happens when we find shipwrecks.

On this series, the viewer gets to join the expedition as a passenger on the ship and sees everything we do from the time that we initiate a project for finding a shipwreck to the search for the shipwreck to when we put the robotics on the bottom and experience that amazing moment of discovery of a new shipwreck that no human has ever seen before.

What obstacles do you face in your line of work?

There are natural obstacles that come from the complicated work in the deep ocean and man-made obstacles including bureaucracy and legal issues. As soon as you head out to sea there are all kinds of problems that prevent you from finding and keeping shipwrecks.

What is the difference between excavations carried out by a private organisation and those carried out by the government?

I think that as a private company, we typically can choose to work on the projects that we are interested in.

When it comes to exploration I think it's very important for explorers to be able to make decisions on a ship based on new knowledge that they gain as they conduct a project.

Very often in government or even academic operations you will find a lot of bureaucratic infrastructure which complicates the mission. I think that allowing exploration activities to be run by the people on the ship as opposed to people making rules on shore allows flexibility.

What is the research that goes into your line of work?

We have an in-house team of archaeologists and researchers at Odyssey of about eight people. Then we have 25 or 30 people all around the world that are specialists in searching libraries and looking at ancient manuscripts. How it usually works is we have an idea for a shipwreck project and then the researchers will go to all the different researchers they have around the world who will try to find out information about exactly where the ship was lost.

We'll try to find log books from the ship as well as other information and reports that can help us figure out exactly where a ship has gone down.

Often there is contradictory information so one of our tasks is sorting the information that is true from that based on gossip or sometimes intentionally published to try to mislead people.

How long does each excavation last?

The length of time for an excavation depends a lot on the type of shipwreck and how much work we intend to do. Most of the time we only do a photo mosaic study and we don't pick up artefacts. We just make a record of the shipwreck. But if we're going to do a complete excavation of a shipwreck it can take anywhere from two to three months.

In the Black Swan Project, Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered silver and gold coins, from a shipwreck. Can you tell us about the effect of the project?

The Black Swan is an example of the poor set of laws that are applied to deep ocean shipwrecks. When we found this shipwreck in international waters we took the artefacts into court voluntarily to try to find who the owners would be and what type of award Odyssey would get.

Unfortunately, it's been turned into a battle between Spain and Odyssey.Dealing with exploration in international waters is a lot like dealing with outer space.

There aren't really good laws in place yet and the jurisdiction that applies to a shipwreck from international waters depends on what court you take it to. So, while the Black Swan was disappointing in one respect, it also helps to determine what the legal issues are.

“Treasure Quest” will be aired on Discovery Science every Sunday at 8:30 pm