Most of the time, when we drop something valuable into the ocean, we can pretty much assume it’s gone forever (we’ll never forgive you, Rose). Not only is it difficult to locate items in ever-changing tides and currents, but over time, the seawater can severely eat away at the object.

So what makes this story remarkable is not that a valuable piece of electronic equipment once deemed lost at sea was recovered, but that it actually still worked—and what it showed shocked everyone.

A team from the marine ecology department at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada conducted a research dive on May 13, 2014. The students hoped to study the waters off the coast of Bamfield, near Vancouver Island’s west coast.

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They planned to focus on the region’s sea stars, but they got much more than they bargained for!

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Students Beau Doherty and Tella Osler were the first to discover an old camera on the ocean floor. It was covered in algae and other aquatic life.

3-shipwrecked-cameraTwitter / Isabelle M. Côté“One of them picked it up and put it in his pocket and kept counting the starfish,” said Professor Isabelle Côté in an interview. “When they came up from the dive, he said, ‘Look what I found.’”

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Also on the boat was Côté’s co-professor Siobhan Gray of Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. It was Gray who brought the camera back to land. She was as fascinated by the camera itself as she was with the fauna that had been growing on it.

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The camera delighted the researchers, as a miniature ecosystem of sorts had been growing on it. Two brittle stars (similar creatures to starfish), a sea cucumber, and plenty of algae called it home.

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And to top it all off, the memory card was still intact!

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“My first thought about the camera was, are there still images on the card?” said Gray. “I cleaned the contacts of the [memory card], put it in my computer and it worked.”

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There were still plenty of videos and photos in the eight-gigabyte Lexar Platinum II card, dating back to July 30, 2012. Most of them were pictures of people at various get-togethers, like a family reunion.

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Côté and Gray knew they had to try to find the original owner.

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Côté and Gray used the hashtag #detectives to tweet out the photos in the hopes of finding the original owner, but nobody claimed them, even after over a hundred retweets.

11-shipwrecked-camerahttps://twitter.com/redlipblenny/status/466440802395504640/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

 They even made copies and pinned one of the photos around town. Shortly after, a member of the Coast Guard recognized a man in the photo as one who had been rescued from a shipwreck.

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The man, Paul Burgoyne, was an artist from Vancouver who had lost his boat when it sunk in the area in 2012.

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Soon after, on May 21, 2014, Burgoyne connected with Gray. “He was thrilled,” she said. “He says when he got off the phone with the Coast Guard him and his wife were laughing a great deal, and mentioned how lucky he was.”

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Burgoyne was lucky indeed. He’d been sailing to his summer home in Tahsis, British Columbia on July 20, 2012 when he ran into bad weather and crashed into rocks.

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Burgoyne, stranded, developed hypothermia. Luckily, patrons at a nearby inn found him and contacted the Coast Guard. Six hours later, he was rescued.

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He lost hundreds of possessions in the crash. He thought he’d never see his camera again.

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Being reunited with his camera was important for Burgoyne, because the photos didn’t depict just any ordinary family reunion. In fact, many of them were taken as his family buried his deceased mother’s ashes. He also remembered how he almost died himself on that fateful night.

18-shipwrecked-cameraTwitter / Josh Silberg

Burgoyne was thankful for the team that uncovered his old camera. They sent the memory card back to him, but they were sure to back it up first. “That card seems to be a little unlucky,” said Côté.

19-shipwrecked-cameraFlickr / Simon Fraser University

What an incredible coincidence, not to mention such a meaningful ending! Sometimes, fate actually works out in our favor!

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