Deep-Sea Treasure Hunting on the Blockchain


With an estimated $100 billion value in sunken artifacts in the waters surrounding the Bahamas, deep-sea treasure hunters could soon satiate their thirst for a big bounty through blockchain technology.

Using an approach that tokenizes shipwrecked items found on the seafloor, the founders behind blockchain startup PO8 intend to revitalize marine archaeology in the region minus the kind of looting, corruption and lack of oversight that caused officials with the commonwealth government to put a halt to expeditions in the region for nearly two decades.

PO8’s model in adhering to responsible salvaging practices convinced the local government officials, as Chief Marketing Officer Raul Vasquez told Bitcoin Magazine: “Currently PO8 is the only government approved entity with a salvage license to do any underwater salvaging in territorial waters belonging to the Bahamas.”

Using an Ethereum-based platform along with ERC-721 token functionality, the PO8 model creates non-fungible tokens (NFTs) — tokens based on the collateral value of recovered items. Each NFT utilizes specifically designed smart contracts that are cryptographically certified with unique asset data. While NFT ownership can be to anyone in the world, the majority of PO8 artifacts remain in the custody of the PO8 Foundation.

“For example, let’s say PO8 finds a rare artifact worth millions,” Vasquez explained. “The physical artifact would remain under the custody of PO8 for continued study by the archaeology community or to be exhibited in museums for the larger public good, while the digital ownership of the NFT can be anywhere around the world. Now, the real ownership of an asset is determined by its NFT.”

Later this year, PO8 will be rolling out the PAZAR marketplace where users can buy, sell, auction, lease, trade and leverage the tokens. Land-based undersea explorers will also be able to contribute to the hunt with PO8’s DApp Maritime Artifact Data System (MADS), which serves in big data analysis around satellite images, sonar, image and video, electromagnetic and historic data. In exchange for their MADS efforts, contributors earn NTFs when users already hold PO8 tokens in their wallet as a demonstration of proof of stake in the system.

“Individuals, rather than corporations and governments, will play a more vital role in the recovery, conservation, exhibition and ownership of these artifacts,” a white paper available on the PO8 site states. “Decentralization of the industry will allow millions more to participate in the experience and bear witness to history encapsulated underwater for centuries. What was once only accessible to a few can now be shared with eager enthusiasts all over the world.”

With the recoveries, PO8 first pays the government, insurers and foundations their cut of the booty. From there, the organization sells 50 percent of the artifacts on its open auction platform. The other 50 percent stays with the foundation to be used in educational programs and traveling exhibitions around the world.

At the crux of PO8 is the establishment of a complementary fix for archaeologists and academics who see high value in maintaining shipwreck sites with commercial interests looking for a return on the high-dollar investments necessary to pull off underwater expeditions.

Recruiting Experts

Only a handful of commercial salvage companies “have the financial backing to afford months, years and sometimes decades on the high seas in the treasure hunt of their lives,” according to the white paper. “For governments and the nonprofit sector, these high costs make it difficult to be active participants in exploratory excavations.”

PO8’s promotion of responsible commercial salvage includes building a team capable of carrying out the mission. Most recently, this translates to the addition of David Gallo, a 30-year oceanography veteran and one of the creators of the first detailed maps of the RMS Titanic, in the role of vice president for exploration. Gallo was also part of the successful international effort in locating the wreck site of Air France flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

“To me PO8 is the most exciting project to come along in decades,” Gallo said in a statement. “It encourages the development of new technologies and techniques for undersea exploration and visualization. In doing so, PO8 will accelerate the ability to locate, document and protect the precious artifacts of Bahamian undersea cultural resources. The waters surrounding the islands of the Bahamas are not only rich with shipwrecks but also with unlimited treasures of the mind.”

Regarding PO8’s first exploratory mission, slated for Q3 2019, CEO Matthew Arnett only says the team is eyeing a couple target sites with “cargo manifests indicating the loads are significant in value.”

PO8 received its salvaging license from government officials in the Bahamas late in 2017. Since the start of 2018, the firm has focused on the development of its smart contracts and wallet. Beginning in the third quarter of this year, the crowdsource initial coin offering begins with registration most likely to begin in early– to mid-August, Vasquez told Bitcoin Magazine.


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