Miami Paul Shultz was walking along the pier of a Key West marina when he saw what looked like a rotting tomato pounding against the rocks.
The Coast Guard investigator waded ankle-deep into the water to fish out the ocean rubbish: a bright red Nikon camera, small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. Its waterproof plastic case was covered with six months’ worth of crusty sea growth, but the camera itself was almost pristine when he found it May 16.
However, clues to tracking down its owner were few. So Shultz decided to test his investigative skills.
There were photos of two men preparing to scuba dive and a towheaded family nestled together on a couch. There was a mysterious relic settled deep into the sea floor. And even a puzzling video clip of splashing water that appeared to have been taken as the camera thrashed around under the control of something that wasn’t human.
Shultz uploaded the images on Scubaboard.com, hoping some diving aficionados could help identify where they were taken. Within days, the Internet sleuths had parsed the pictures and found some clues all pointing to Aruba, a Dutch island off Venezuela’s coast that’s 1,100 miles from Key West.
But could the camera make such a trip? Villy Kourafalou, an associate professor of physical oceanography at the University of Miami, said such an odyssey is possible. The buoyancy of the plastic case combined with various currents could have taken the camera to Key West, she told The Associated Press in an e-mail.
With Shultz’s search narrowed, the resolution came quickly. He posted the pictures on the travel websites Cruisecritic and Aruba.com, and within two days was contacted by an Aruban woman who said she recognized the children in some of the photos as classmates of her son.
She contacted the family, the de Bruins, and all the pieces came together.
“I have a smile on my face ... I can’t stop laughing about it,” Dick de Bruin said in a phone interview from Aruba.