Shipwreck training for marine rangers and students

A two-day course in marine archaeology will be held in Townsville this week, aimed at boosting the protection of the Great Barrier Reef’s rich maritime heritage, which includes an estimated 800 historic shipwrecks.

The Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) have joined forces to deliver the historic shipwreck training for marine rangers and James Cook University (JCU) students.

With support from the Museum of Tropical Queensland, the training is being delivered  3-4 November by marine archaeologists Paddy Waterson from EHP and GBRMPA’s Peter Illidge.

"We'll be training some 20 National Parks, Sport and Racing rangers, staff from GBRMPA and students from JCU," Mr Waterson said.

"They'll be learning basic archaeological principles and science, archaeological surveying and search techniques through to heritage management as these relate to historic shipwrecks via the training that has been developed by the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology."

Mr Waterson said since the late 1700s, approximately 1400 ships were believed to have been wrecked along the Queensland coastline; about 800 of these are believed to exist in the marine park.

"People are often amazed so many ships have been wrecked along our coast, but this is not surprising, considering for much of the time since the 1700s our commerce and trade was maritime based.

"So far, only about 200 of the 1400 shipwrecks have been located - a figure which has improved through the Queensland Government's historic shipwreck survey, which started in 2010."

Mr Waterson said like all archaeological disciplines, there had been many advances in maritime archaeology that have enhanced shipwreck search techniques.

"Wrecks can be found using a variety of techniques such as aerial imagery and remote sensing as well as magnetometers and side scan sonars.

"The equipment is becoming more compact, cheaper and sophisticated and is able to detect sites more safely and deeper than previously.

"Modern systems like our magnetometer are linked to accurate GPS systems that enable us to locate an anomaly and record its position for follow up."

GBRMPA’s maritime archaeologist Peter Illidge said the Agency was committed to ensuring the preservation of the marine park's rich maritime heritage.

"We are proud to be part of the training in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef here in Townsville and look forward to forming productive and long-term partnerships with the community and Queensland Government departments charged with the protection of our maritime heritage," Mr Illidge said.

“State and Commonwealth heritage laws require anyone who discovers a shipwreck to report it, even if people are unsure if it has been previously reported.”

Shipwrecks can be reported by submitting a Notification of discovery of an in-situ historic shipwreck or relic to the Australian National Shipwreck Database.