Foam shipwreck survives forces of nature

The Foam shipwreck off Townsville remains in relatively good condition despite being 125 years old and subjected to the forces of nature.

A team of maritime archaeologists from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Museum of Tropical Queensland and the Department of Environment and Science recently surveyed the site.

Marine Park Authority Project Manager Maritime Cultural Heritage Pete Illidge said there hadn’t been much change at the site since it was surveyed three years ago.

“Coral and sediment covering the shipwreck stopped oxygen getting to it and has helped preserve it,” Mr Illidge said.

“Cyclones left coral rubble behind, covered some of the shipwreck and moved or exposed parts of the ship, including rigging, fittings and the chain.

“The anchor winch has additional coral rubble covering it, since it was surveyed in early 2000.

“Overall, though, it remains in good condition.”

Principal Heritage Officer for Archaeology Amer Khan from the Department of Environment and Science said conservation management plans were being put in place for the six most significant shipwrecks in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“These plans are very important because they ensure historically significant shipwrecks are protected against damage due to the effects of natural forces and illegal human interference,” Mr Khan said.

“The team used a software program to render site photographs into 3D models — this was done entirely without damaging or interfering with the shipwreck remains.

“Images from previous surveys of the site, going back over 30 years, are now also being processed into 3D models, making it possible to compare changes to the site in ways never before possible.”

The expedition also included archaeologists from New South Wales Heritage and SA Heritage.

In 1893, the Foam was bound from Dungeness to the Solomon Islands on a voyage to recruit and return labourers, when it ran aground on Myrmidon Reef about 72 nautical miles (about 125 km) off Townsville.

The government chartered another vessel to carry out a rescue mission, but when it reached the Foam it was lying on its port side, about two-thirds under water at low tide.

Mr Illidge said all those on board were saved and some of the fittings from the vessel were recovered.

“The Foam shipwreck is a quite a dynamic site, so it’s important that it remains in good condition for people to enjoy and understand it’s rich history, for this generation and generations to come.”

The conservation management plans are part of the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Plan.

The Foam shipwreck is a historic shipwreck protected under the Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 and a protected zone is in place around it.

Members of the public can come and see this beautiful site, but should be aware a permit is required to enter the protected zone, and activities that may damage the site are not permissible.

More information about obtaining a permit.