Maritime heritage

Some of South Australia's history is bedded on the state's coast and inland waterways. This includes more than 70 shipwrecks that have ended their days in the 19 identified ships' graveyards. Other historic sites that are on land play an important role in the workings of the surroundings waters, such as lighthouses, jetties and whaling stations.

DEWNR's maritime heritage program encompasses such land and underwater sites. The program aims to identify, conserve, protect and provide policy advice on the built and maritime heritage of South Australia in line with the relevant legislation.

Underwater and land-based maritime heritage sites are identified through regional surveys and information from the community. The regional surveys identify shipwrecks in both Commonwealth and state waters and are conducted by DEWNR maritime archaeologists.

Typically, regional shipwreck surveys involve:

  • historical research
  • coordination and liaison with local communities
  • site investigation and recording
  • occasional artefact recovery
  • recommendations on shipwrecks to be protected
  • recommendations on management and interpretation.

During the inspection and assessment process, shipwreck sites are considered in terms of what conservation work may be required to assist in their longevity and their utilisation. This entails the identification and implementation of particular conservation treatments and, in particular cases, the recognition and production of conservation and management plans.

Stabilisation work is carried out on shipwreck sites to help conserve them. For example, at Victor Harbor the Solway, the wooden immigrant ship which brought some of the first German settlers to South Australia in 1837, has been totally covered with hundreds of sand bags, reducing the deteriorating effect of sand scouring and the damage done by teredo worms.

DEWNR has also created nine maritime heritage trails located throughout the state.

Protecting shipwrecks

South Australia has a rich maritime history with more than 800 shipwrecks recorded along the coast and inland waters. The shipwrecks provide important information into the state's maritime history and are havens for marine life. The remains of these vessels are also important education, recreational and tourism assets.

South Australia's shipwrecks are non-renewable heritage resources. This means that once a wreck is damaged or disturbed, it can not be repaired, and the history and valued assets are lost. Therefore the protection of these historic wreck sites is critical for the preservation of the state's maritime heritage and surrounding marine environments.

Ship's graveyards sites offer unique opportunities for study and recreational activities because of their relative accessibility to both divers and non-divers and because of the purposeful way in which they were scuttled. This accessibility however also makes them more at risk from both accidental and deliberate damage.

A major threat to these eco-systems is the accidental damage caused by visitors stepping on plants or small creatures on the shoreline or colliding with the wrecks in boats or kayaks. Any physical impact by divers, boats or anchors seriously affects the delicate balance that exists on these sites.

Every effort should also be made to prevent accidental damage, such as that caused by trampling plants or animals along the shoreline, or by bumping into the structure with boats or kayaks or through poor control. Deliberate damage, for example, by dislodging or removing material should be avoided.

In an effort to preserve these historic wreck sites DEWNR together with various community supports, are responsible for the identification, management, protection and promotion of South Australia's maritime heritage.

DEWNR encourages the responsible enjoyment of shipwreck sites throughout the state and has produced a number of interpretive trails and publications which promote these valuable resources.

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Protected zone permits

When 75 years or more has passed since the loss of a ship, their remains are classified as a historic shipwreck, regardless of whether they have been discovered or not.

Some shipwrecks are surrounded by protected zones which prohibit boating activity within a 550 metre radius of the shipwreck site. A permit is required to enter these protected zones to carry out any activity, such as diving.

Currently, two historic shipwrecks in South Australia have protected zones requiring a permit.

You can apply for a permit by completing the application below: