Frying Pan Tower working to set up automatic cameras to stream restoration efforts

People interested in what's going on 30+ miles offshore may be getting a closer look.
Frying Pan Tower (Photo: WTVD)

FRYING PAN SHOALS, NC (WWAY) — The work to restore Frying Pan Tower has been going on for years and now people may be able to get an even closer look.

Frying Pan Tower was constructed in the early 1960s to replace a U.S. Coast Guard lightship that was stationed in Frying Pan Shoals for more than 100 years to help mariners navigate the shallow waters. The former light station stands 135 feet above the ocean and 32 miles off the coast of Southport.

“The place is about 80 feet by 80 feet which doesn’t sound that big but when you’re out here and you’re on the helipad and there’s no one else there, it’s your ocean,” Richard Neal said.

The light station was retired in 2004 and Richard Neal bought the tower at auction in 2010, later creating the 501(c)3 non-profit FPTower in 2018 to begin restoring the structure.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know about the ocean. See, I look at the ocean just like everybody else. I see the waves, I go to the beach. Okay, it’s alright. What I don’t see is what’s under the water,” Neal said. “By being here on the tower and dropping cameras down and learning how to scuba dive at age 60. I’m looking…there’s a world of fish…everything from the smallest, teeniest creature all the way up to 9-foot big old sand tigers just hanging out.”

Volunteers of all skill sets visit the tower every other week from Sunday to Friday to help breathe new life into the structure. Neal says he’s learned over the years that just as much as he needs people skilled in welding and electrical work, he needs people that are willing to help.

“A young lady from England about the age of my daughter had been watching us and wanted to come help. She said she didn’t cook great, she didn’t know how to weld, but she was really excited and wanted to help,” Neal said. “She was fixing things, we were working together. A very good father-daughter thing even though she’s not my daughter. Anyone younger than me, that’s my daughter, that’s my son. Before she left, she said ‘do you mind if I try to weld?’ So she welded with my guidance and she did it better than I do because she had a steadier hand!”

The work to restore the tower has, clearly, captured the attention of people from all over the world. The tower’s Facebook page has more than 320,000 followers. Neal typically posts several times a day about what’s happening on the tower, from the restoration efforts to sharing breathtaking 360 views of the ocean. The tower will soon be equipped with eight high-definition cameras to capture the work being done.

“All the volunteers that come out here, some of them help with the donations, some of them we bring out because we really critically need some of their skills. Some of the guys that have done cameras, we will very shortly have eight really nice high-def cameras available online. We’ll have to figure out how to make it interesting to watch,” Neal laughed.

While a lot has been done, Neal says there’s still a lot of work to do. They are trying to get ahead of the rust so the tower can be used for years to come for boater safety, a safe space for wildlife, and education.

“We also want to make it to where marine researchers can use our ROV we just got, kind of drive it around the bottom. That’ll be really great. I can’t wait ’til we get that so students in high schools can be like, alright who’s gonna drive!? You know? Just learn about the ocean,” Neal said.

For anyone interested in learning more about the tower, volunteer opportunities, or how to visit as an “eco-tourist,” visit here.

Categories: Brunswick, Brunswick, Local, NC, NC, NC-Carolinas, NC-Carolinas