Shipwrecks are in danger from natural causes, not divers!

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There was an article by Joanna Carson in the May 8, 2012, edition of the Bellarine Times in Australia telling of efforts by archaeologists to rebury the 164 years old wreck of the coastal trading schooner Clarence.
See “Huge Effort to Bury St Leonards Wreck in Time”

These archaeologists are burying the wreck to save it, and I sincerely applaud their efforts. I hope they are successful.

I only wish that all archaeologists understood how destructive storms can be to shipwrecks (even buried ones). Obviously, too many don’t as virtually nothing is being done about the hundreds of thousands of other wrecks that will suffer the effects of storms, trawlers, etc. this year and all of the years to come. In the United States, Hurricane Hugo moved over five feet of sand off a wreck in eighty feet of water even though the wreck was well over a hundred miles from the storm’s center. The same storm sliced though a paved road and the pounding seas literally cut an island in half. Sand bags wouldn’t have helped there.

I am an underwater archaeologist and shipwreck historian, but, unlike most archaeologists, I am all for sport divers and commercial salvors being allowed to recover artifacts from shipwrecks. The main reason I feel that way is that so many wrecks are being severely degraded, damaged and destroyed by hurricanes and other natural and man-made causes, totally unrelated to diving. Allowing artifact recovery and shipwreck salvage is the best way to save at least parts of these wrecks.

The article failed to mention why the sand depths had changed. I suspect the causes were natural, but perhaps they were due to dredging and/or to boat traffic, and I further suspect that the wrecks discovery was due to sport divers, not archaeologists. Unfortunately, who discovered the wreck was not mentioned in the article.

Archaeologists and museums need to be working with and alongside of sport divers and salvors, not trying to stop them. And, when sport divers make discoveries, they should be named and credited with those discoveries throughout the work that follows even if that work is carried out by government and institutional archaeologists. Crediting helps encourage others to make and report discoveries. Reasonable laws allowing private/commercial salvage will help.

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