Losing something incredibly meaningful and important, like a camera or photo album, can feel devastating. Most of the time, there’s no other option than to move on. However, once in a blue moon, a long lost item makes its way home under the strangest of circumstances. This is one of those stories.
When conducting research, divers from a Canadian university discovered a long lost camera on the seafloor. From the looks of it, it had remained there for years, if not decades. While it was strange enough to find a camera on the bottom, the divers never thought it would work. But, believe it or not, it turned on! And they could not believe the photos they found…
A Diving Expedition
On the morning of May 13, 2014, a diving team from the Marine Ecology Department at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, prepared to head out into some pretty deep waters. You see, the team wanted to conduct a research dive to study the waters off the coast of Bamfield, near Vancouver Island.
While the dive team had initially planned to simply take some notes on oceanic wildlife, their goals that day quickly changed. As the team loaded up the boat and headed out onto the deep blue sea, they had no idea what the ocean depths had in store for them…
Specifically, the team wanted to dive into the cold waters to study the many variations of sea stars that call the area home. By taking a large group out there, the divers hoped to shed light on their interesting behavior and numbers. Not only that, but some of the divers also planned to capture a few sea stars to study them back in the school labs.
However, once down on the seafloor, something embedded in the sea bed caught the eye of one diver. At first, he had no idea what the item could be. So, the diver and his partner swam closer, determined to figure it out. Upon closer inspection, the two students managed to determine precisely what the strange object was…
Beau Doherty, left, and Tella Osler, right, were the Simon Fraser University students who noticed something strange on the seafloor. While Doherty saw it first, the second he pointed it out, Olser agreed the square object did not belong. Determined to remove any trash from the beautiful ocean, the two swam over and tried to remove the object.
Closer, they noticed the object had hard edges and a leather strap that waved in the current. As Doherty pulled the belt, he felt surprised to see a round lense emerge from the sand. Despite the algae and literal sea life living on the object, the diver recognized it as a camera!
Who’s the Owner?
After Doherty discovered the rusty camera, he placed it in his dive bag and continued with his research. However, as he continued his diving expedition, the diver couldn’t help but wonder who the old camera had belonged to. More importantly, how had this camera ended up on the seafloor, so deep in the water and so far away from the shore. Also, how long had it been there?
“One of [the divers] picked it up and put it in his pocket and kept counting the starfish,” Professor Isabelle Cote recalled in an interview. “When they came up from the dive, he said, ‘Look what I found.’” As you might imagine, the whole team felt curious and wanted to find out everything about the unusual find!
Grabbing Her Attention
After Doherty revealed what he had found, the old camera particularly caught the attention of Cote’s co-professor, Siobhan Gray. What was so special about this rusty camera?
Well, while Gray had accompanied the group out that day, her main interest of study was not actually the starfish. Instead, she had tagged along to study aquatic plant life for the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center. When looking at the camera, Grey felt amazed to see fauna growing on the surface of the electronic! So she decided to take the rusty camera back to her lab for further investigation. Back at the lab, Gray found far more than she ever expected…
Gray could not believe the miniature ecosystem that she discovered living inside the old, rusty camera. While she had seen plenty of algae and plant life on the outside of the camera, nothing could prepare her for the inside!
Inside, Gray found not only several more species of algae, but also a sea cucumber and two brittle stars. For those not in the know, brittle stars are very similar to sea stars, just much, much smaller. Nature had found a way to take over the camera and turn it into part of its ecosystem, as Gray and Cote taught in their ecology classes. However, as luck would have it, that wasn’t all that Gray had discovered…
A Valuable Find
Now, many might assume that a camera that spent years underwater would be completely useless. And they’re right! However, memory cards, on the other hand, are known to be able to take quite the beating. And, when Gray popped it out of its tray, it actually looked in pretty good shape!
Even though the SD card was covered in black algae, the team hoped that it would still work when placed in a computer. Even better, they hoped that a few shots had survived the water damage. If they had, the dive team might even be able to track down the original owner. While it felt like a long shot, they felt more than willing to try!
The Moment of Truth
When Gray discovered that the SD card remained almost intact, she felt another wave of excitement flow through her. “My first thought about the camera was, are there still images on the card?” she recalled. Even in the interview, months after finding the camera, Gray could still barely contain how excited she felt about solving this long-forgotten mystery.
After removing the SD card from the camera, Gray carefully cleaned every bit of it with an earbud and rubbing alcohol. Then, Gray slotted it into her computer and took a deep breath. The moment of truth arrived…and the memory card worked!
Gray felt incredibly happy to learn that not only did the eight-gigabyte Lexar Platinum card still work, but that plenty of videos and pictures had survived! Hopefully, the memory card’s contents would lead the team to the camera’s rightful owner. Unfortunately, the task would soon prove harder than first expected…
Even though Gray felt reluctant to scroll through somebody’s personal photos, she knew of no other way to get to the bottom of this mystery. So she started looking at the images one by one. As she scrolled through them, Gray realized that the pictures continued many of the same people (seen above) at various get-togethers, dating back to July 30, 2012.
It Didn’t Feel Right
Despite feeling happy that she had access to the pictures, Gray still did not feel right looking through someone’s personal property. Even worse, after going through every single photo, she failed to find any clues that would help her find the owner. The professor had no idea what to do next.
Still, as Gray looked at the photos, she knew that, given their content, they must mean a lot to the family seen above. So, even though she didn’t know what she would do next, the professor felt determined to not give up. Thankfully, Gray was about to unlock a clue that would solve everything…
Running out of ideas on her own, Gray decided to ask her colleague, Isabelle Cote, seen below, for help. Unsurprisingly, she was more than happy to help Gray solve the mystery of the underwater camera. After taking a moment to think, Cote realized they had the best chance of finding the camera’s owner by posting the pictures on social media.
The very next day, the pair began tweeting out certain photos, using the hashtag #detectives. Soon enough, the pictures garnered hundreds of comments, likes, and retweets. However, despite all the interaction and feedback, no one came forward to claim the images. So, a couple days later, Cote and Gray decided to change their strategy up.
After a few days, Cote and Gray realized they were getting nowhere with the social media posts. So, they elected to try something new. After all, they had agreed to never back down! The camera was too important to its original owner! Running out of options, the two professors felt willing to try everything they could think of.
Eventually, Cote, Gray, and the rest of the dive team resorted to printing out the pictures and posting them around the town. Believe it or not, it didn’t take too long before a member of the local Coast Guard regimen actually recognized someone in the photos. It would seem one of the men in photos had been rescued from a shipwreck not too long ago…
The Diver In The Photos
As it turns out, one of the men in the photos was Paul Burgoyne, an artist from Vancouver. Apparently, Burgoyne had lost his boat back in 2012 when it sank, exactly where the diver had found the camera. After a short talk with Cote and Gray, the Coast Guard officer found Burgoyne’s phone number and got in touch with him.
After a short phone call with him, the Coast Guard officer took the camera in hopes of returning it to the man. Meanwhile, Cote and Gray felt thrilled that their hard work had finally yielded some results. Little did they know that the story would not end there…
Behind the Mystery
In late May of 2014, Gray received a phone call that finally put the entire mystery to bed. On the other end was none other than Paul Burgoyne, and “he was thrilled,” Gray said. Apparently, Burgoyne couldn’t believe that the dive team had found his long lost camera! And, just as Gray and her associate had predicted, he told her just how much the camera meant to him.
“He said when he got off the phone with the Coast Guard, he and his wife were laughing a great deal and mentioned how lucky he was,” Gray later said. As the professor and Burgoyne talked, he told just how important the photos on the camera were to him…
Incredibly Important Photos
Burgoyne felt particularly grateful as the bulk of the photos on the card did not capture any ordinary family gathering. You see, most of the pictures came from the day when he and his family had scattered his late mother’s ashes. That made the loss of his camera even harder: it had been all Burgoyne had to remember his mother by. Meanwhile, the rest of the car held some of his favorite scuba diving and snorkeling photos, like the one below.
Of course, the professor needed to know how Burgoyne could have possibly lost such an important camera. As Gray would soon discover, he had lost the camera under the most harrowing of circumstances!
All Hell Breaks Loose
The entire adventure began two years yearly, on July 20, 2012. At the time, Burgoyne had been sailing to his summer home in Tahsis, British Columbia. Then, as things can on the sea, everything took a turn for the worst in a heartbeat.
Everything seemed fine at first, with the majority of the trip going off without a hitch. “I felt bliss when the ocean went calm and I was sitting at the back of the boat all by myself and thinking ‘What could be better than this?” Burgoyne recalled of the beginning of the trip. However, “all hell broke loose” when he hit a spot of bad weather…
An Ill-Fated Trip
As the final day approached, Burgoyne though he would sail on through without incident. Unfortunately, on the afternoon of the last day, the sailor placed his boat directly in the path of a massive storm.
For those who do not know, things can change on the sea in a heartbeat. In just minutes, the seas went from calm and beautiful to raging and terrifying. Sailing through the storm, Burgoyne tried to remain calm and rely on his skills to get him through. Unfortunately, as the sea grew more turbulent, his boat crashed into some unseen rocks near the shore. In the ensuing panic, Burgoyne dived from the boat into the water, losing everything, including his camera.
After Burgoyne’s boat crashed against the rocks, and the hull smashed apart, it quickly sank into the ocean. Within a matter of minutes, he found himself stranded in the freezing cold water. Rapidly developing hypothermia, Burgoyne saw his entire life flash before his eyes. He felt sure he would never get out of the ghastly accident alive.
Thankfully, patrons at a nearby inn spotted him and called the Coast Guard. Believe it or not, Burgoyne had to stay in out in the cold water for six hours he was finally rescued and brought back to the shore Luckily, after a short hospital stay, he returned to full health. While in the hospital, the local community truly rallied together to help Burgoyne…
Rallying Around Burgoyne
The morning after the Coast Guard saved Burgoyne from the waters, the local Canadian newspaper ran a story about the rescue. Immediately, friends, family, and even strangers aided Burgoyne in his recovery. Many sent well-wishes and cards, while some went above and beyond, sending him gifts or food. In fact, a local electronics store, Future Shop, even replaced all his underwater camera equipment at no charge!
Unfortunately, regardless of the camera or well-wishes, Burgoyne could not help but still feel heartbroken. He truly appreciated them, but he had simply lost too much, in just a matter of seconds during the crash…
As you can imagine, Paul Burgoyne felt extremely grateful that he had made it out of the ocean alive and even had a new camera. However, as a result, he had lost hundreds of personal and meaningful possessions in the wreck, not just his pictures. At first, Burgoyne felt incredibly depressed and hurt at the loss. Still, in time, he learned to accept it. After all, it was the cost of his survival.
Still, out of all the objects he lost, Burgoyne felt most heartbroken about his missing camera. While he could replace most of the other possessions, he could not recreate the photos. For years, Burgoyne had assumed he had lost those memories for all time. So, you can only imagine how lucky he felt when the Coast Guard officer called him!
A Lucky Turn
As you might imagine, Burgoyne cannot believe he eventually got the camera back, after so long. “That just shocked me. Getting the camera, or the photos back, that’s really quite wonderful,” he said. “I have a new respect for, you know, these electronics. You throw most of it away every two years, but that little card is an amazing bit of technology.”
These days, the photographs serve as a reminder for Burgoyne to always be thankful for what he has. At first, he says, he had to give the camera up to understand the importance of life. Now that he’s learned to be thankful, the universe returned the camera to Burgoyne.