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Of Pirates And Scientists

Pirate Chest

Tales of pirates and plunder have inspired more than a few Hollywood epics. Did you catch the summer block buster with Johnny Depp? But, believe it or not, the real pirates left behind a treasure trove of information about -- can you guess? Marine ecology.

As ecologists try to piece together clues about how marine animal and plant populations have changed over the centuries, they're going back to historical records, including the boastful logs of pirates and buccaneers.

They're scouring archives and museums for medieval cookbooks, old fishing records, and pirate logs to glean how much seafood was, and wasn't, available.

William Dampier, a pirate who prowled the Caribbean during the 17th century, left behind an especially valuable log. He made detailed records about turtle populations and nesting areas -- records detailed enough for modern scientists to use for accurate mapping. In fact, Charles Darwin took some of Dampier's logs with him on his voyage aboard the Beagle.

Still other records trace the decline of Atlantic Cod and the loss of coral reefs in the Florida Keys.

Swashbucklers of yore left clues for today's marine ecologists, a real treasure map -- to be sure.

Script by Andrew Porterfield

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