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The wreck of Captain James Cook’s Endeavor is feared to be destroyed by sea worms, the ‘termites of the ocean’.

In February, the Australian Maritime Museum announced that the sinking, in the waters off Rhode Island in the United States, was “the final resting place” of this famous historic vessel.

The Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project (Rimap) disputed that claim, sparking a transatlantic spat at the site known as RI 2394.

Now an expert has told the Boston Globe that he has found evidence that earthworms have infiltrated the wood.

Reuben Shipway, professor of marine biology at the University of Plymouth, dived to the wreckage and discovered that sea worms had infiltrated a piece of wood belonging to RI 2394.

Earthworms – actually a worm-like snail – infiltrate and eat through the wood.

“It means that one of the most significant shipwrecks in human history is being torn up right before our noses,” Shipway said.

“It’s a ship that connects the UK to Australia and America, as it also played a very important role in the battle for American independence. It’s our shared cultural heritage. And it is being destroyed.

The naval shipworm (Teredo navalis), which eats the exposed wood of the Endeavor wreck from the inside. Photography: David Willer Reuben Shipway/Shellfish of the Year 2022/LOEWE TBG

The Australian Maritime Museum said the site should be protected.

“When the museum made the announcement regarding the Endeavour, we raised the need for the continued protection of the site as a major concern,” a spokesperson said.

“There are a number of solutions that could be put in place to protect not only the Endeavor site, but also other important vessels in Newport Harbour.”

Australian researchers have been working with Rimap for more than two decades to positively identify the wreckage, but the relationship soured after the museum’s former chief executive, Kevin Sumption, said he was “confident” that he it was the Endeavour.

Rimap’s leader, Dr. Kathy Abbass, fired back angrily. She said that even though it was the famous ship, work was ongoing. At the time, she said Rimap was the lead organization and would release its eventual report when it was sure.

“Rimap recognizes the connection between Australian citizens of British descent and the Endeavour, but Rimap’s findings will be driven by proper scientific process and not by Australian emotions or politics,” she said.

The museum spokesman said he was looking forward to Dr Abbass’ report, which is expected shortly.

The Endeavor sailed the South Pacific from 1768 to 1771, when Cook conducted scientific research and charted the coast of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia before claiming the land for Britain.

In 1778, British forces scuttled it in Newport Harbor during the American Revolutionary War.

This is one of many wrecks in the area.

Shipway said the exposed timber of the wreckage was eaten from within by Teredo navalis, naval shipworm. “The guts of earthworms are full of wood,” he told the Boston Globe.

Another species, crustaceans called gribbles, also ate the wood.

Shipway said anyone who cared about the wreckage should find the resources and funding to protect it.

theguardian Gt

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