It can be painful to lose a treasured possession. The majority of us will let the past be the past and move on with our lives after wishing and hoping that we would find it again.
And when we misplace something that we are certain will never be found again, we are compelled to give up on the hunt. But occasionally, fate provides assistance.
Very occasionally, though, the impossible happens. This was the case when a group of divers from the marine ecology department of a Canadian university stumbled across something that had been lost for years during a routine expedition.
The team’s curiosity was so piqued that they began a search to locate the owner of the long-lost item.
On the morning of May 13, 2014, the team from the marine ecology department at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, was conducting a research dive to study the waters off the coast of Bamfield, near Vancouver Island’s west coast.
Although the team had begun their day with a very specific goal in mind, the purpose of that day’s dive quickly changed.
The diving team was studying the many species of starfish in the area and had hoped to gain some insight into their behavior — both in their own natural environment and in the school laboratory.
But, in a strange turn of events, something embedded in the sea bed caught the eye of two students.
Beau Doherty and Tella Osler noticed something on the seafloor that didn’t look like it was part of the natural ecosystem. It had hard edges and a leather strap that was waving in the current.
Beau lifted it out of the sand and was astounded to see a round lens. Although it was a very old and algae and sea life had totally encrusted its rusted metal exterior, it was still recognizable as a very old camera!
Beau stashed the rusted camera in his pocket and continued with his research, but he couldn’t help but wonder who the old camera had belonged to.
Professor Isabelle Côté recalls the fateful find: “One of them picked it up and put it in his pocket and kept counting the starfish,” she said in an interview. “When they came up from the dive, he said, ‘Look what I found.'”
Once the divers returned to the boat and Beau revealed what he’d found, the camera immediately caught the attention of Isabelle’s co-professor, Siobhan Gray, who also happened to be on the boat.
She was conducting her own research for the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center and was intrigued by the camera, as well as the fauna that was growing on its surface. She decided to take it back to her lab for further investigation… and she was not disappointed.
Aside from the camera itself, Siobhan was most excited by the miniature ecosystem that was living on and inside the old camera. When the camera was opened up to reveal its insides, Siobhan was ecstatic.
Besides numerous species of algae, she found a sea cucumber and two brittle stars (similar to starfish) living inside. But, as luck would have it, that wasn’t all she discovered…
Amazingly, the camera’s memory card was still relatively intact! Now, the whole diving team was more than intrigued.
Although the SD card was covered in black algae, the team hoped that it would still work. Even better, there might be a few photographs that had survived. Maybe they could even identify and track the original owner?
“My first thought about the camera was, are there still images on the card?” Siobhan said excitedly. In the interview, she could barely contain herself when discussing the possibility of what the card may hold.
Siobhan carefully cleaned all the contacts of the memory card with an earbud and rubbing alcohol. Then, she slotted it into her computer and held her breath. And, lo and behold, it worked.
Not only was the eight-gigabyte Lexar Platinum card still working, but it still contained many videos and photos.
Although Siobhan was reluctant to scroll through someone’s personal and secret memories, she continued to look at the photos one by one, unable to tear her eyes away. The photos and videos were of various people at many different get-togethers, dating back as far as July 30, 2012.
As exciting as it was, looking at the photos just didn’t feel right somehow. Photograph after photograph flashed before her eyes, but long before she had reached the end, she knew that something had to be done. But what? And more importantly, how?
Isabelle and Siobhan knew that they needed to do their best to track down the original owner. But they had no idea that they were about to unlock a harrowing story.
Isabelle and Siobhan knew that the best chance they had of finding the camera’s owner was to take the photos to social media.
They began to tweet out some of the photographs using the hashtag “#detectives.” Soon, the photos had garnered hundreds of comments and retweets. But, despite the photos receiving a lot of attention, no one came forward. Then, they decided to try a different tactic.
Siobhan and Isabelle knew that they weren’t getting any closer to locating the camera’s owner on Twitter.
Eventually, the team resorted to printing out the photos and posting them around the town. And it wasn’t long before a member of the Coast Guard recognized the man in the photo. Could he be the man they rescued from a shipwreck? Finally, they had their first lead!
Paul Burgoyne was an artist from Vancouver. He had lost his boat in 2012 when it sank. Once the man was identified, the coast guard member tracked down his phone number in an attempt to get further information.
Siobhan and Isabelle were thrilled that their search had finally yielded some results. But would the story end here?
On the morning of May 21, 2014, Siobhan got the phone call that finally put an end to the mystery.
Paul Burgoyne was on the other end, and “He was thrilled,” she explained. “He says 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.” But it was only when Siobhan heard his harrowing tale that she understood.
It turned out that Paul was an extremely lucky man. He told Siobhan the story of how he had lost his camera.
On July 20, 2012, Paul was sailing to his summer home in Tahsis, British Columbia. His trip had gone without a hitch until he ran into a spot of bad weather. With the sea growing turbulent, his boat was thrown against some rocks. He subsequently lost his camera in the wreck.
When Paul’s boat crashed against the rocks, they smashed his hull apart. Paul found himself stranded in the freezing cold water and developed hypothermia.
It was lucky that patrons at a nearby inn spotted him and called the Coast Guard. But it was only six hours later that he was rescued and brought back to shore…
Paul was thankful that he had made it out alive, but he had lost hundreds of personal possessions in the wreck. Over the years, and although it hurt him deeply, he had grown to accept what had happened. He was most heartbroken about his camera — other possessions could be replaced.
But after he had gotten the call from the coast guard informing him that his camera had been found, he couldn’t believe his luck!
The photographs on Pauls’s camera didn’t depict an ordinary family reunion. In fact, they had been taken when he and his family had scattered his late mother’s ashes. And the photographs served as a reminder to be thankful — after all, he had nearly lost his life on the night that he had lost his camera.
Siobhan and Isabelle sent the memory card back to him, but they were careful to back it up first. “That card seems to be a little unlucky,” said Isabelle.
The following week, Siobhan received a lovely email from Paul. He told her he had spent the week restoring his memory card to retrieve some of the damaged files.
The older man was happy to have some of his memories back. Because he had spent the last few years longing for the belongings, the sea had taken from him. He printed and enlarged a few of his favorite photographs to frame his house. His wife was happy as he seemed to get his life back. He thanked her and said he would keep in touch.
Hearing that Paul was well on his way to getting his old personality back made Siobhan happy. But something stung inside her heart, and her mouth went dry; she swallowed. She remembered that she still had all his photographs from her laptop camera.
Siobhan grew a conscience. The photographs were not her property; she had no right to even look at them without Pauls’s permission. So why did she still keep them on her laptop?
The weary diver sat down at her table and looked at her laptop. She was contemplating whether to look at the pictures or not. It was the curious explorer in her. She had found the camera on one of her expeditions, and just like her other finds, it was a treasure, a piece of evidence, proof as to what she did underwater.
She kept everything she found safe and categorized. But these pictures were not hers; they belonged to a stranger. What should she do with them?
Siobhan made herself a Café Mocha. It was her favorite coffee and always helped her mind think straight when she had tough decisions. She was in deep thought and sat down at her table again.
She tapped on the laptop with her nail. Thinking, questioning… “Perhaps one last look before I delete them?” She thought and opened the laptop.
She stared at the blank screen as her laptop powered up. What was she doing? she thought, almost disgusted in herself. “That poor man had been through enough already. Why are you digging into his past ?” she shouted at herself.
The laptop was on, and the file folder was saved on her desktop. Bamfield Camera Find. She hadn’t even renamed it as Paul. She felt as though it has her find, her information. “I promise I will delete them after one last look she said aloud as if someone was standing with her.
Siobhan moved her mouse over the file and clicked open. She was in. There were thousands of pictures, and she didn’t get a chance to see all of them. She wasn’t particularly interested in Paul as a person, but she felt that there was another reason that she had been the one to find his camera.
The first pictures were of family, holidays, sea dives, underwater pictures, and the ash scattering ceremony. She quickly scrolled through the thumbnails; she didn’t want to open all the images.
A row of pictures seemed to catch Siobhan’s eye. They were all blue. She opened the first image. It was an underwater picture of a beautiful coral Reef. Siobhan immediately recognized it and thought there was a connection.
He had been diving in one of her favorite spots. This was a conservation area that was preserved. One had to get special diving permission to access those waters. Was Paul a professional diver and a Navy Seal? She grew more curious as she ogled the underwater photographs.
This specific area was on the west coast of Vancouver. The reason it was protected was because of a legal case pending against a giant corporation for illegal dumping and mining. The Pharmaceutical company was fined for improper mineral extraction and illegal removal in the ocean.
As Siobhan was one of the top Marine professors of her time, she was approached to assist in the case against Big Pharma. Her duty was to study the marine and coral life and to monitor any negative change n their environment.
The legal case has been going on for the past three years now. The court could not come to a conclusion due to a lack of evidence. This was not true. Siobhan did the tests, and experiments showed a decrease in oxygen and an increase in pollution in the water.
Siobhan knew that Big Pharma had the best legal team. She didn’t stand a chance to prove them wrong, not alone anyway.
The passionate marine professor knew that she had hit the mark. This was why she couldn’t let the pictures go. She had a feeling that there was something on it that she had to see.
She scrolled through the pictures; they all looked similar. Coral, fish, pollution, plastic… she was looking for something specific. Something that would be real proof to put this case to rest once and for all.
There were hundreds of underwater photographs all in a row. Paul must have spent over an hour down there, she thought. Click, click-click, more fish, a deformed fish, poor thing, more pollution, click click click. Her eyes were getting dry from concentrating n the screen.
It was getting late now, and she was tired; maybe she was wrong, maybe there was nothing. “Perhaps I should just delete the file,” she thought. I don’t want to get involved with the Navy or Police. My life I hectic enough. She tapped on her laptop, and that is when she saw it.
It was a large blue container. A chemical drum, the type you use for toxic waste dumping. Siobhan almost choked on her Café Mocha. This was it. There were a few pictures just like it. She tried to look for a company name or signage, but the polluted water made the pictures blurry.
Siobhan zoomed in to a few photos, and there it was. One picture had a red tape with the company logo all over it. “Gotcha!” Siobhan said and placed her mug down in triumph.
The exhausted mom let out a huge sigh of relief. It had been a busy past few years because of this case. Now she finally had evidence to back up her theories from all this time. The clever lady quickly made extra copies of the photos and saved them in a separate file.
The hard part was done, but she still had to put all this information together and present it in court. She needed more backup – and decided to call Paul. “I’m sure he will understand,” she thought.
Sobhan called Paul and explained what had happened. Paul told her that he had run into trouble with the Big Pharma company, so he had to lay low for a while. He said he thought someone was after him trying to kill him.
He had tried to forget, to push it away, because he just wanted to move o with his life. But now he realized that the camera had come back because they had to set things straight.
Paul agreed to help her in court. He would be a witness and would get the Navy to back up his story. Siobhan was relieved that this horrible case would finally be closed and that the relevant parties would get the justice they deserved.
The Environmental team also helped Siobhan gather more recent information to help her case. She was confident that she could take on the law with facts and honesty. This time the criminals would not walk away Scott free. They would pay for damaging her beautiful marina.
To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.