For 100 years, the Titanic has been 12,000 feet deep on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, near the shores of Newfoundland. It wasn’t until 1985 when a joint expedition between a French expedition team and the United States Navy, led by Dr. Robert Ballard, found the Titanic.  Since then, the debate has raged about visiting the site and the removal of objects.

In 1985, Dr. Ballard’s team did not take or remove any artifacts from the site. Instead, they photographed and documented the ship and its condition and left a commemorative plaque paying homage to those that perished on the Titanic. By not taking anything from the site, this left the Titanic open for claim by the first salvager to bring up an artifact. In 1987, salvage company RMS Titanic Inc. was formed and they retrieved jewelry, china, and other artifacts in the debris field. These artifacts have been carefully restored and used in traveling Titanic exhibits. In 1994, the U.S. District Court gave RMS Titanic Inc. the sole possession of the site. The company has salvaged over 6,000 artifacts from the depths of the sea. RMS Titanic Inc. has strongly felt that its duty has been to protect and preserve the artifacts recovered from the Titanic. The ship’s deterioration has spurred the resolve of RMS Titanic Inc. to bring the artifacts to a public audience.  The only artifact they’ve been allowed to sell is coal from the debris field, with proceeds used to cover the costs of the expeditions. Late last year, RMS Titanic Inc., held by Premiere Exhibitions, Inc., announced that they intend to auction off the salvage rights and recovered artifacts in a public auction in 2012.

With the 100th anniversary, underwater tourism to the wreck has increased and many pay steep prices to see the deteriorating ship. The US Courts, NOAA and US Coast Guard among others have advised vessels and submersibles not to pollute the site, disturb any wreckage, or remove any objects. The United States, Canada, United Kingdom and France have all been working towards an international agreement to protect the site from further damage or salvaging.

Dr. Ballard has shared his belief that Titanic’s artifacts should remain in the sea, as it is a gravesite and memorial for all those that lost their lives. In addition, he believes that the underwater tourism and the salvaging of objects have hurt the integrity of the Titanic. Just as RMS Titanic Inc. wishes to reach a broad audience with the artifacts it collects and restores, Ballard wishes to do the same. The two sides have very different opinions on how to accomplish this goal. Instead of having underwater tourism or salvaging artifacts, Ballard wants to create a “virtual” tour.  Ballard wishes to have lights and high-definition cameras on underwater moveable vehicles which would allow people to virtually visit the site and view it closely from many angles without disturbing the site.

Which side are you on? Do you think that it is RMS Titanic Inc.’s duty to preserve artifacts and place them on display for the public? Or do you side with Robert Ballard and feel that it is a gravesite that should be untouched and viewed only digitally?