Ballard worried Titanic wreck being 'loved to death'
Published Friday, April 13, 2012 11:41AM EDT
The man who discovered the wreckage of the RMS Titanic in 1985 is worried the storied ship is literally being "loved to death" by explorers, salvagers and underwater tourists.
"We are starting to discover that the deep sea is a giant museum and that there's more history in it than all of the museums of the world combined," Robert Ballard told CTV's Canada AM in an interview that aired Friday.
"But what we're starting to worry about with that undersea museum is there's no guard on the door . . . people are visiting the Titanic, people are taking things from the Titanic, the submarines are damaging it, trash is accumulating," he said from his home in Mystic, Conn.
Ballard is legendary for his deep-sea research on active volcanoes and mountain ranges as a geologist, but his life steered a different course when he discovered Titanic after finishing a top-secret U.S. Navy mission to find two sunken nuclear submarines.
"The Titanic was a crossroad where I began to learn about the history that lies beneath the sea," he said of his more than 130 underwater missions.
After discovering the Titanic, Ballard went on to find the legendary German battleship Bismarck, the USS Yorkton, John F. Kennedy's PT-109 and more recently ancient shipwrecks in the Black Sea.
"We're trying to get people to understand that there is history in the ocean but you need to respect it," Ballard said.
While Ballard thinks it's "wonderful" people want to visit the Titanic site - something he wholeheartedly supports and encourages through advancements in technology - there's a rogue wave of recklessness that's damaging the ship's remains.
"It's not the visiting, it's the landing on the ship, crushing the deck . . . they've knocked off the crow's nest, they've torn lighting fixtures off the ship itself . . . that's what I'm really concerned about," he said.
The United States Senate is introducing legislation with tougher language to protect Titanic from further damage, he said, encouraging Canada to do the same since the wreckage is closer to this country than the U.S.
"We hope Canada will join the United States in protective language to protect the Titanic from future damage," he said.
Ballard believes the Titanic has created a fascination for people over the decades because of the stories from the decks of the doomed ship and the fact it took almost three hours to sink after striking an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, April 14, 1912.
"It was actually a beautiful night . . . calm seas, the band was playing and then you had on the deck of the Titanic this morality play acted out," he said.
There were villains like the ship's owner, Joseph Bruce Ismay, who sneaked into one of the lifeboats with women and children to save his neck, and victims like a young boy who turned 18 the day before and decided to stay on board with the other "men" and perished.
But what really creates the attraction for people is they tend to put themselves in the same position on the deck of the ship as a passenger as the Titanic's bow dips into the frigid Atlantic, Ballard said.
"Would you get out of the lifeboat and stand with your husband, or would you wave goodbye and save your life?" he said they might ask themselves.
"I think no one really knows what they would do until they're presented with that situation, so everyone who reads that story, I'm sure, is wondering what they would have done," Ballard said.
While he plans to visit the newly christened Titanic museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he's also opened an exhibit at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.
"We have a theatre that actually captures the moment of discovery. We have opened up our archives and our footage and you can spend a long time here if you're interested in the Titanic," Ballard said.