A while ago, I was interviewed by Alex Calvo from CIMSEC, the Center for International Maritime Security. Alex is a Professor of International Relations at Nagoya University, Japan, a member of Taiwan’s South China Sea Think-Tank and an expert on Asian maritime security and defence issues.
Alex has done a few interviews for CIMSEC, and I have to hand it to him − he asked some of the most intelligent questions that have ever been posed to me. I would absolutely love all my interviews to be this way. Thoughtful, insightful an most of all, enjoyable. You can read the full interview on the CIMSEC website here.
For those of you who want the Cliff Notes, I’ve pulled some of the most personal pieces from the interview and have included them below. I’m saving the South China Sea situation for a dedicated post. In the meantime, here’s a little of my who, what and why…
CIMSEC: When did you decide to become a maritime archaeologist, and why?
Sarah: As a child, I had a fascination with the sea. I grew up on my parents’ boat, diving and exploring the Tangalooma wrecks; a group of blockships sunk off the coast of Tangalooma Island close to my childhood home of Brisbane, Australia. I was obsessed with Jacques Cousteau and when not splashing about in the water, would spend hours poring over his books and films.
Having worked in finance for several years, and with an MBA under my belt, I decided that life was too short, and it was time that I did what I loved. I eventually abandoned my desk job, took the plunge and proved that it is possible to turn your passion into a challenging and rewarding career.
CIMSEC: Which project are you currently working on? Could you tell us a bit about it?
Sarah: My current research work is focused on the maritime archaeology of China, the maritime silk route and the early Ming Navy, notably the voyages of Zheng He and the materiality of Sino-foreign maritime cultural change . I’m currently investigating evidence suggesting that one of the Zheng He ships wrecked on the East African coast. This is significant as it could be the first vessel relating to the voyages that have been found. If so, it would give us an incredible insight into the expansionist Ming maritime policy and today’s parallels.
CIMSEC: Do you use unmanned submarines in your work? Do they offer the potential to radically transform our understanding of the maritime past?
Sarah: Yes, quite often. In the past, for example, I’ve worked with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics to carry out high-resolution shipwreck surveys in deep water using Sirius, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The submersible is equipped with a full suite of oceanographic instruments. These include a high-resolution stereo camera pair and strobes, a multibeam sonar, depth and conductivity/temperature sensors, Doppler Velocity Log (DVL) including a compass with integrated roll and pitch sensors, Ultra Short Baseline Acoustic Positioning System (USBL), and forward-looking obstacle avoidance sonar. The result is effectively a 3D map of the shipwreck site to millimetric accuracy. This technology allows us to locate, identify and survey submerged sites with greater accuracy than ever before, in smaller timeframes, and in deep water and other environments not previously accessible to divers. The result is high quality, often real-time data that can be used for interpretation, education, dissemination, and site monitoring in new and exciting ways.
Want to read more? You can find the full interview here.
CIMSEC is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank formed in 2012, to foster the discussion on securing our seas. If you would like to know more, please visit the centre’s website, here.