It took the perfect storm to bring history to life.
Scuba divers in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Alabama have uncovered a primeval underwater forest buried under ocean sediments, according to an article in Live Science.
The Bald Cypress forest, protected in an oxygen-free environment for more than 50,000 years, was likely uncovered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Ben Raines, executive director of the nonprofit Weeks Bay Foundation and one of the first divers to explore the site.
The forest contains Cypress trees so well-preserved that when they are cut, they still smell like fresh Cypress sap, Raines said. The site spans a roughly two-mile area about 60 feet below the surface, and is located 12 miles off the coast of Alabama near Gulf Shores.
"A fisherman stumbled across something on his depth finder - a strange ledge - so he started fishing it and caught a lot of fish there," Raines said. "He asked a friend who is a diver if he would go to the location and see what was down there."
The diver descended to the spot and found numerous tree stumps, said Raines, who at the time was a reporter at the Press-Register in Mobile.
But the dive shop owner refused to disclose the location for several years, Raines said, because scuba divers often take artifacts from shipwrecks and other sites. But Raines didn't give up.
"I pestered him (diver friend) until he agreed to take me out there.'
When he finally dove to the area last August, Raines said he encountered "a magical, enchanted, otherworldly place with trees all around that should never be on the bottom of the ocean."
The underwater forest was teeming with sea life, he said, including Sea anemones, shrimp, crabs and "huge schools of fish swimming all around."
Timothy Dellapenna, professor of marine geology at Texas A&M University at Galveston, said that discoveries like this don't happen every day.
"It's not that there aren't other forests like this out there," he said. "It's just that it takes unique conditions to preserve it. This is the right environment for that to happen."
The find, Dellapenna said, is sure to attract timber industry officials in search of new sources of wood.
"In other places, like in North Carolina, there is a whole industry for cypress trees," he said. "Once people find out where it is, people will go out to get the wood. It hasn't been harvested.
Raines, however, said he's opposed to any commercial exploitation of the hidden forest.
"I don't want guitar companies going after the wood or someone making coffee tables out of these trees," Raines said. "Ultimately, I'd like it to be protected so people can go out and visit for recreation, but not to harvest the wood."