AUSTRALIA’S Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018(UCH Act) became an act of parliament on24 August 2018. It is anticipated that the UCH Actwill come into force on 1 July 2019.What are the implications for divers who want toresearch and explore Australian shipwrecks andartefacts, and other underwater sites of historical andcultural significance? The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 currently protectsover 7,500 historic shipwrecks and 500,000 associatedrelics. The new UCH Act will continue the system forprotecting in-situ underwater cultural heritage andartefacts removed from sites established under theHistoric Shipwrecks Act.
The scope of the UCH Act willbe expanded beyond shipwrecks to encompass sunkenaircraft and other cultural heritage sites, and includesprotection of the natural environments surroundingsites. It also provides protections for Australian vesselsand aircraft and their artefacts in waters outside ofAustralia’s jurisdiction. According to the AustralianDepartment of Environment and Energy, the UCH Actalso “ensures that the discovery, protection andmanagement of Australian underwater cultural heritagewill be effective and proportionate by modernizing thecompliance and enforcement provisions.” Shipwrecks, sunken aircraft and other underwatercultural heritage sites and their artefacts areirreplaceable and the information they contain cannotbe researched, recovered or renewed once “treasurehunted” or disturbed. The new UCH Act recognisesunderwater cultural heritage as a resource that belongsto all Australians, to be protected for their currentenjoyment and education as well as for futuregenerations. The UCH Act is an outcome of years of consultationwith the public, in particular the 2009 review of theHistoric Shipwrecks Act 1976.Three issues in particularhave been raised by the diving community:
• That human remains should be distinguished fromother artefacts found underwater. The UCH Act nowgives that distinct recognition. • That the public should have a clearer role in accessand management of underwater cultural heritage. Oneof the UCH Act’s key objectives is to promote publicawareness, understanding, appreciation and appropriate use of Australia’s underwater cultural heritage (section 3(c).)• That the public should be encouraged to haveappropriate access to shipwreck and otherunderwater cultural heritage sites. An improvedsystem for protected zones and permits to manageaccess to significant and fragile sites is now outlinedin the UCH Act.Australia is a world leader in the recognition andprotection of its underwater cultural heritage. While 60countries have ratified the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage,Australia’s legislation will be the most modern andarguably the one of the best examples of underwatercultural heritage law in the world. •Update on the citizen marine archaeology programGIRT [Gathering Information via Recreational andTechnical Scientific Divers]As covered in the June 2018 issue of Dive Log, GIRT is anew program managed by WreckCheckInc.org to mobilize andtrain divers to adopt a local shipwreck and monitor what ishappening to its physical condition. Piloted in 2018 in SouthAustralia, the full program is now launched, with upcomingtraining in Dunedin, New Zealand in January and in Wellingtonin April 2019. Any interested divers in Australia, New Zealandand Papua New Guinea can email for more information: email@example.com