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Tons of unexploded and uncharted weapons are lurking in Gulf of Mexico

unexploded mine floats in ocean water

Image: Texas A&M University

Tons of military explosives, which were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico and off U.S. coastlines after World War II and during much of the Cold War, are now threatening fishing crews, beachcombers, oil drillers and seagoing explorers, according to two Texas A&M University oceanographers.

Professor Niall Slowey and Professor Emeritus William Bryant say the bombs and other military ordinance are scattered throughout the Gulf as well as off the coasts of at least 16 U.S. states, including Hawaii.

The ordinance includes land mines, ocean mines, torpedoes, aerial bombs and several types of chemical weapons, they say. The chemical weapons may have leaked over the decades and could pose a significant environmental problem.

The military began dumping the unexploded bombs from 1946 to 1970, when the practice was banned.

Slowey says, “Up until the 1960s, people thought the seafloor was beyond the reach of human activity. … They could not imagine the types of activities that are commonplace today. As more and more of these bombs and other ordnance are discovered, it has to be assumed that they are still dangerous until proven otherwise.”

To make things worse, the military’s recordkeeping is incomplete, and there is evidence that private contractors may have dumped the ordinance outside of approved sites.

“The real mystery is that no one knows what is down there, or where all of it is,” Slowey says.