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She Thought Her Camera Was Lost at Sea, But It Made a Miraculous Journey Home

Camera Case Covered in Barnacles - Lost at Sea

In an extraordinary and miraculous tale of luck, a camera lost at sea for over two years was discovered by chance on the shores of Taiwan covered in barnacles and lichen. The person who picked up the camera had no idea where the camera had come from, how it got into such a strange state, nor how the owner of the camera assumed it would be lost forever in the depths of the ocean. Read here to join in on this epic discovery of a camera lost at sea, and how it was returned to its owner through the power of social media.

1. Educating the Youth

It all started on March 27, 2018 when fifth grade students at Yue Ming Elementary School in Yilan, Taiwan attended a lecture and presentation all about the hazardous effects of pollution in the oceans and on the beaches in their small island nation and across the globe.

Educating the Youth - Lost at Sea

Environmental education teacher Park Lee had a goal to raise awareness about protecting marine life against all kinds of plastic items floating in the ocean, but little did he know that his little clean-up excursion to the beach would lead to an epic discovery.

2. A Small Effort Goes a Long Way

So off the students went with their teacher Park Lee on a clean-up expedition to the beach nearby the school in the hopes of cleaning the shores, but also to physically show the students how bad things can get because of human apathy.

Combing the Beach - Lost at Sea

Another reason this outdoor trip was planned was because these kinds of activities are so much better and more enjoyable than learning about global issues in a classroom. Little did they know just how interesting it was about to become.

3. Milling About

The students were instructed to comb the beach in its entirety in order to pick up every piece of trash and place it in the garbage bags. Geared with sun hats and their purple-and-green collared school shirts, the students got to work.

Combing the Beach - Lost at Sea

They found buckets full of waste, debris, and plastic stuck in the sand and among the rocks washing up in the ebb and flow of the water. However, the next item one of the students discovered was anything but a piece of trash.

4. What Do We Have Here?

Suddenly, one of the students found a hard, heavy object among the rocks. It looked unbelievably bizarre, like some kind of rock covered in barnacles and shells with some kind of screen at the back of the tough plastic case.

Camera Case Covered in Barnacles - Lost at Sea

The item felt like a solid piece of rock from the ocean, but there was clearly something inside the casing. The student then ran to show Park Lee his awesome discovery in the hopes of figuring out what it was.

5. Not Such a Peculiar Item After All

On closer inspection, teacher Park Lee and the student fiddled with the strange-looking object and took a moment to delicately pry off some of the barnacles. That was then they realized this supposedly unrecognizable object was in fact a waterproof camera case.

Camera Case - Lost at Sea

“We thought it was broken, but then by chance, knocked off a barnacle on the casing and found a button to open the case,” Lee told BBC. The casing felt so heavy because it was protecting none other than a brand new Canon G12 camera.

6. As Good As New

Thanks to the waterproof case, the camera was protected from the erosion of seawater and remained in perfect condition, and judging by the condition of the plastic casing, this camera must have been lost at sea for quite some time.

An Amazing Discovery - Lost at Sea

However, what are the odds of the case remaining sealed for so long? Surely marine life, strong currents, and whatever other secrets lie in the depths of dark ocean would have somehow cracked the case open? Maybe someone from around the area lost it? Well, all the answers to these questions would soon be miraculously revealed.

7. Lights, Camera, Action!

The student pressed the power button, and not only did the camera switch on, it astonishingly had quite a bit of battery power left. Even more astonishing was that the camera image display revealed a gallery of hundreds of pictures still stored on the fully-functional memory card.

Canon PowerShot G12 - Lost at Sea

Lee immediately understood that this brand-new-looking camera, that was still charged, definitely had a fascinating story to tell. So who did this camera belong to, and how did it make its way to the shores of Taiwan? Where had it journeyed from?

8. The Ethics of It All

When the students got back to class, Lee debated what to do about the camera. He wasn’t sure how ethical it’d be too look at the photos, but it was the only way of solving this mysterious puzzle and possibly finding the owner.

Full Memory Card of Photographs - Lost at Sea

Lee told BBC: “Some children thought we had earned the camera and could keep for ourselves. Others suggested we should try to find the owner – and so we all sat down to think about how to do that.” But first, they had to look at the pictures to get some clues!

9. The First Clue

The last picture taken on the camera was on September 7, 2015. Based on the picture, a female had been snapping some shots while on a dive, so Park Lee and the students assumed she had lost the camera while scuba diving.

Girl Scuba Diving - Lost at Sea

This picture obviously didn’t give much away about where exactly she was scuba diving. Her diving suit also didn’t bear any clues as of yet to discern some kind of location, and therefore the students decided to browse through some more pictures.

10. The Face of It All

Finally! The students could finally identify some kind of face from the film roll of this camera lost at sea. For all they knew, this Canon camera could be hers, but they still couldn’t jump to any conclusions as of yet.

Girl Scuba Diving Smiling for Camera - Lost at Sea

They were, however, one step closer to discovering who this camera belonged to. At this point, it was safe to assume that this diver was the owner of the camera because she featured in the pictures so far. This was just one piece of the puzzle. Continue reading to discover more of this incredible story, as the clues are just warming up.

11. A Reef

Based on the beautiful shots they had just uncovered, Lee and his students discerned that this woman must have been exploring some kind of reef with fellow scuba divers, and while she was at it, she captured gorgeous photos of the experience.

Picture of Scuba Divers - Lost at Sea

This was when the students began to empathize with the owner of the camera, thinking that she must have been really devastated to lose her camera in the depths of the ocean. But it was no time for commiserating at this point, as they were determined to find the owner. The students didn’t know it yet, but they were getting one step closer!

12. A Light Festival

Dated August 5, 2015, the next picture indicated that the owner of the camera must have been at some kind of light festival around the time of her scuba diving expedition. Did this mean she was on some kind of vacation?

Light Festival - Lost at Sea

Nothing was really clear yet about the location and whereabouts of these photographs, but Lee knew they had to keep digging to find more clues about this woman and where she was the last time she used the camera. He didn’t feel comfortable looking at the photos, but he would soon learn that it was the best thing he could have ever done.

13. A Japanese Fishery

Lee and his students could hardly believe it, but this fish restaurant sign indicated that this said woman must have been in Japan when she took this picture on July 30, 2015. Could it really have been possible for the camera to make its way from Japan to Taiwan?!

Restaurant in Japan - Lost at Sea

Well, the proof is all in the images and clearly the owner of the camera was exploring some part of Japan while on her scuba diving expedition. However, it wasn’t clear yet whether she went diving in northern or southern Japan. Lee assumed it must have been somewhere near Kyushu or Okinawa because of the warmer waters year round.

14. An Aquarium?

When Lee and the students looked at this picture of beautifully-illuminated dolphins taken on July 30, 2015, they assumed that the woman who possessed the camera had either visited an aquarium in the area or swam with dolphins herself while on the trip.

Aquarium of Dolphins - Lost at Sea

They weren’t sure where she lived or whether she was on vacation, but by tracing her footsteps through this pictures, they believed she was on some kind of vacation. All they had to do was click thorough several more images, and the mystery of her whereabouts would be solved.

15. More Clues

Taken on July 25, 2015, this next photograph offered more clues as to where the owner was before her camera got lost at sea. These signs indicated some kind of fishing pond in the area called Tsuribari or “Fish Hook” which costs 1,000 Yen per hour to use.

Japanese Signage - Lost at Sea

Only a tourist would think to take a picture of such a pond, right? Lee and the students did some research on the place and were able to pinpoint that she must have been exploring the Okinawa Prefecture and Ishigaki Island.

16. The Ultimate Clue

From the variety of scenes depicting the streets of Japan, swimming dolphins, scuba diving, Lee and his students surmised that the owner of the camera lost at sea was probably Japanese and had spent some time on Ishigaki in the Okinawa Prefecture.

Exploring Japan - Lost at Sea

However, the clue of all clues was this airport sign indicating that she had traveled to this very island on July 24, 2015 from Nishinomiya North Exit. They could hardly believe it, but the camera that was lost at sea had indeed traveled over 155 miles (250 km) to where the student found it lying on the beach in Taiwan.

17. Bullseye

Lee and his students used a map to establish the camera’s journey across the waves all the way from Ishigaki Island only to be washed up on a beach in Taiwan after it was lost at sea on September 7, 2015.

Tracing Her Steps - Lost at Sea

After the diving trip, the owner of the camera must have definitely assumed her precious possession was gone forever, but little did she know that it was about to return to her in the most miraculous way possible because of Lee and the students’ ingenious plan.

18. One Solution…Facebook

Lee and his students decided their best direction would be social media. They posted all the pictures they found on the camera on Facebook, with a long explanation in both Japanese and Chinese explaining the story of this camera found lost at sea.

Master Solution - Lost at Sea

They also included images of the lichen-covered waterproof case and the Canon PowerShot G12 camera, imploring for help to identify the owner of the camera. It felt like finding a needle in a haystack, but they were about to find out about the power of social media.

19. “A Camera Lost at Sea”

Later that day, only hours after finding the camera, Lee posted the pictures and the story about the camera. He started off explaining how his students had found the camera in the first place thanks to a clean-up expedition initiated by the Yue Chen Group from the University of Hong Kong.

lost at sea

The teacher than emphasized that he didn’t find it ethical to look at someone else’s private pictures, and that he had no choice but to look in order to find the owner who most probably believed that her camera was lost forever over two years earlier.

20. A Detailed Search

The post also provided some tips and explanations about the photographs to help make the search easier for everyone involved. He wrote that judging by the pictures on the camera, the owner must have been a young Japanese woman because of the party and diving scenes she captured.

Facebook Search - Lost at Sea

He also provided the dates of the pictures to indicate how for long the camera was lost at sea, as well as some more of his own personal information should anyone want to contact him. Lee was confident that this post would track down the owner, but he had no idea how fast and effective it would be.

21. Outreach

Lee also posted a picture of the camera in pristine condition to show the amount of respect he and his students had for this search, and that they kept it in the condition they had found it in. He was also shocked at how quickly the post took off the moment after posting it on Facebook.

Canon PowerShot G12 - Lost at Sea

The post was shared over 10,000 times and thousands of people commented on it too. He even received several private messages in his inbox on how to contact Japanese news outlets to render the search easier. “I received countless messages from people in Taiwan and Japan [who] wanted to reunite the camera with its owner,” Lee told BBC.

22. “Check Your Inbox”

Only 30 hours later, a Japanese friend told Lee to check his email. Yes, the post had reached the camera owner and she had sent him a personal message to confirm her identity and tell him exactly how she had lost her camera.

Check Your Inbox - Lost at Sea

“Thanks to the amazing internet world, we’ve found the camera’s owner. While I was confident that we would eventually find the owner, I had no idea it would happen so quickly,” Lee exclaimed. He wrote that anyone was welcome to share the story as much as they wanted to, but that the search for the camera owner was over. So who was she, and how did the camera land up in Taiwan?

23. Serina Tsubakihara

Thanks to the incredible power of networking and social media, the camera’s owner, Serina Tsubakihara, was able to contact Lee and tell him who she was and how she had lost the camera on September 7, 2015, two and a half years earlier.

Group of Divers - Lost at Sea

She told Lee that she was on holiday and she lost the camera while scuba diving off the island of Ishigaki, near Okinawa. “I was scuba diving and I lost the camera when one of my friends ran out of air and needed my help,” Tsubakihara said. She feared it was gone forever after grabbing the emergency oxygen tank and dropping the camera, but little did she know that it drifted and bobbed all the way to a beach in Su’ao, Taiwan.

24. More About Tsubakihara

Tsubakihara, a third year English student of the Department of Foreign Languages at Sophia University in Tokyo, told Lee that a friend of hers who knew about the camera informed her about the post after seeing it on Facebook. “I was super surprised when my friends told me about this and sent me the post with those pictures. I couldn’t believe it was happening,” she stated.

Serina Tsubakihara - Lost at Sea

Tsubakihara felt incredible blessed and agreed to have her name posted on Facebook. “I am so lucky and happy to have this miracle opportunity to feel kindness of people in my life,” she wrote on her Facebook. She went on to say that the camera was a gift from her parents, and she was devastated when she realized it was gone forever.

25. Miracles and Coincidences

Tsubakihara could hardly believe that the camera case protected her precious camera for all that time until it reached Su’ao, Taiwan. It was hard for her to believe that the digital device made its own odyssey across the ocean without incurring any damages whatsoever, and moreover, that all her photographs were saved. She said: “Those pictures remind me of old memories and looking at them brought me back to them.”

Serina Tsubakihara - Lost at Sea

What was even more coincidental to her, was that she and a group of friends had traveled to Taiwan in March 2017. In fact, this photo of her eating this ice-cream was taken in Taiwan. “I still can’t believe this is happening but the only thing I want to say is thank you so much for every single person who was involved with this. I never thought this would happen, but it’s still a wonder,” she wrote on Facebook.

26. Plans to Visit Taiwan

As soon as Tsubakihara discovered her camera was in safe hands, she planned to visit Taiwan to retrieve the camera and to visit Lee and his wonderful students to thank them in person for finding her precious possession and for making such a concerted effort to find her.

Plans to Visit Taiwan - Lost at Sea

She told the BBC that she could hardly contain her excitement about this recent chain of events. She made sure to phone Lee and his students ahead of time via video chat to thank them for what they had done for her.

27. A Media Hit

Good news travels fast, and therefore many news outlets across Japan and around the world contacted Tsubakihara. Everyone was eager to find out all about her scuba diving experience, and what exactly happened the moment she lost the camera at sea.

Fuji TV Interivew - Lost at Sea

She couldn’t believe all the attention her story had received, and it became clear to her that it was nothing short of a miracle that she would soon have her Canon PowerShot G12 in her possession again. Pictured here is an interview she had with Japanese Fuji TV. However, the most exciting part is her planned visit to Taiwan on the way

28. A Sponsored Trip

Taiwanese travel agency KKday has sponsored a return ticket and five-day trip for Tsubakihara and her mother to visit Taiwan from the April 26th-30th, 2018. An airport shuttle is due to pick them up and take them straight to Yue Ming Elementary School, so she can thank Lee and his class in person.

Sponsored Trip - Lost at Sea

Tsubakihara and her mother were also graciously sponsored with a stay at the four-star hotel Yilan Yuechuan Hotel. Tsubakihara took to Facebook to express her excitement for the upcoming visit to Taiwan, and to thank everyone involved in the sponsorship.

29. When One Blessing Leads to Another

In order to repay their good deed, Canon Camera company has also decided to send free cameras over to the children at Yue Ming Elementary School because of their great effort and kindness during their quest to find the owner of the camera.

Yue Ming Elementary School Sponsored by Canon - Lost at Sea

Another reason Canon decided to sponsor the class was so the children could have the opportunity to record marine ecological images during their environmental education classes and expeditions. Lee has told Canon that his students are extremely grateful for the cameras and will put them to good use.

30. A Special Meeting

Yue Ming Elementary School has since been awarded by the city with a special youth entrepreneurship business meeting in Wenchuang Market. At the event, they were treated to free dessert, coffee, organic farm produce, local traditional foods, fruits, and vegetables.

Yue Ming Elementary School - Lost at Sea

Recently, a special park tour was given where Lee and his class raised over 20,000 Yuan ($3,176) by offering free tea and massages. This initiative raised enough money for the class to visit two seaside schools where they will put on an environmental protection puppet show called “The Camera Drifting in the Sea”. The goal is to get all the other schools on board to promote beach cleaning projects.

If you found this story fascinating, then please SHARE it with your friends!

Sources: Daily Mail, BBC, The Sun, Buzzfeed

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