Australia's underwater heritage sites
There are more than 8000 protected shipwrecks, sunken aircraft and other underwater heritage sites around Australia’s coastline. Each has stories to tell and they are a unique part of Australia’s heritage. Underwater heritage contributes to our understanding of important aspects of our history. As a continent isolated from the rest of the world by water, Australia owes much of its early cultural development to transport by sea. Aircraft have also played an important role in the continued development and defence of Australia.
Australia’s shipwrecks and sunken aircraft often contain collections of artefacts that provide us with a snapshot in time. More than 500,000 shipwreck and aircraft artefacts are held in the collections of Australian museums or government institutions and many thousands are held in private collections or by individuals.
How is underwater heritage protected?
The Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 (Underwater Heritage Act) protects shipwrecks, sunken aircraft and their associated artefacts, that occurred 75 or more years ago, regardless of whether their location is known. Other types of underwater heritage, and more recent shipwrecks or aircraft, may be protected through a declaration under the Underwater Heritage Act. Some underwater heritage sites also have a protected zone around them.
The Australian Government works collaboratively with State and Territory Government agencies to protect and conserve Australia’s irreplaceable underwater heritage to ensure our shared heritage can be enjoyed now and by future generations.
Visiting underwater heritage sites; what are my responsibilities?
People are free to visit and enjoy the vast majority of Australia’s protected underwater heritage sites, provided they observe the requirements of the Underwater Heritage Act.
These requirements are that persons:
- do not disturb or damage underwater heritage and its surrounding environment or remove artefacts, during the course of your visit;
- observe the requirements of protected zones and obtain a permit to enter a zone if it’s required;
- provide authorities with a notification of any new underwater heritage discovery within 21 days; and
- report any suspicious or illegal activity that you observe happening around underwater heritage sites.
How do I apply for a Permit or submit a notification?
Permit applications and notifications can be made directly on the Australasian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database through the following links:
- Permit application for entry into a protected zone or to impact underwater cultural heritage
- Notification of discovery of underwater cultural heritage
- Report an incident of illegal or suspicious activity concerning underwater cultural heritage
Who can help with advice?
There are specialist staff located at State, Territory or Commonwealth heritage agencies who can assist you with advice. Your enquiries should be sent to UnderwaterHeritage@environment.gov.au and it will be directed to the person best able to provide assistance.