A large, strange object washed up on the shores of Dania Beach in South Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The discovery has left local residents scratching their heads.
Why? Because the object contains Cyrillic writing and appears to be Russian. As it turns out, the mystery object is a Soviet buoy weighing 1,200 pounds. No one is exactly sure where this Cold War relic came from, and even worse, nobody knows what it was used for.
Employees of Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park were the first to spot the strange object, which washed up unexpectedly several days after their beach was affected by Hurricane Irma. The Coast Guard’s local office is adjacent to the park, and their officers came running down to the beach when they spotted the object.
Meteorologists from the National Weather Service have examined tides during Hurricane Irma and suspect that the object floated in due to the turbulent waters. They also suspect it came from Cuba, which is 350 miles away. The buoy is likely part of the Soviet Union era of communist Cuba.
NWS meteorologist Robert Molleda said “In Irma, the storm came from the south-southeast. And in a storm like that, something could get dislodged and could go adrift and easily wind up in Florida.”
Bill Moore, a maintenance mechanic at the park, was amazed by the object: “You don’t find that too often!”
When Bill and the Coast Guard got to the beach, the object wouldn’t budge. It was far too heavy, and even heavier than previously thought because it was filled with seawater and sand. The group proceeded to haul it up the beach with a skid-steer loader to a nearby parking lot.
Upon examination, the tip of the buoy is likely the part that was anchored to the ocean floor. The top was damaged and probably once contained a light or beacon for ships to use as guidance navigation. A gash in the side of the buoy revealed foam inside.
The Coast Guard consulted the Library of Congress about the Russian writing. The writing means “Hydrometrical Service of the USSR” according to Russian Area Specialist of the European Division of the Library of Congress, Harold M. Leich.
Leich says “Gidrometricheskaia” means “water-measuring” and translates into “Hydrometeorological” in English. The buoy likely measures atmospheric water, depth, movement and things like water temperature. Molleda explained that buoys of this type are typically used to measure wave height, wind speed and atmospheric pressure. He says it could also be to measure tsunamis.
But Leich also suspects the buoy had a more sinister role. He’s been with the Library for over 30 years and is adept at Soviet and Russian history. He reminds us that the Soviet Union and Cuba were close allys for over 30 years (1960-1991), until the Soviet Union collapse. And the USSR definitely used Cuba as a spy base to keep tabs on America. Leich believes the buoy was a navigation aid for Soviet naval vessels, and in the chaos of 1991, it was simply left behind and forgotten. Leich states that lots of other similar infrastructure was left behind in Cuba.
Interestingly, the buoy may have actually come from Florida. 89-year-old Florida Keys resident Jerry Wilkinson said he had a similar buoy lost in the storm. A marina owner gifted the buoy to Wilkinson over 15 years ago. It was originally found on a beach on the upper Keys island of Plantation Key. Wilkinson kept it as an interesting artifact because of its likely ties to the Cold War. Wilkinson said he is not sure if it is his buoy; the writing on the Dania Beach buoy seems more clear than Wilkinson remembers. Either way, Wilkinson says Dania Beach can keep it. It is too heavy and too expensive for Wilkinson to ship back to his home in The Keys.
Park manager Steven Dale says there have been some strange visitors showing up in Dania Beach. Two men identified themselves as Navy investigators, but they wore plain clothes and would not leave a business card or contact information. They told Dale they’d be glad to haul it away. He was suspicious, asked for their information, and they haven’t come back.
Later Naval Sea Systems Command spokesperson Roxie Merritt in Washington, D.C. indeed confirmed that the two men were engineers they sent to survey the object because it peaked their curiosity. They too think it was from Cuba. But Merritt says that because the object washed up on a state beach, Florida is now the buoy’s proud owner. The park has said they’re happy for the Coast Guard to take the buoy, but public affairs officials have not yet commented whether they want the buoy.
Whether Wilkinson’s buoy and the Dania Beach buoy are one in the same, it raises the question: How many more Soviet objects are out there? Keep an eye on those Florida beaches!