Preserve and protect submerged
heritage resources for current and future generations.
In estimated 50,000 shipwrecks,
including the ironclad civil war vessel, the U.S.S. Monitor,
are scattered throughout the U.S. territorial sea and the Exclusive
Economic Zone. These shipwrecks and other sunken artifacts are
time capsules of the world's history. Until the advent of scuba
diving equipment and other technological developments in the
1950s, submerged heritage resources were largely undisturbed
by humans. Advances in deep-sea technology have created unprecedented
opportunities for discovering, researching, accessing, and preserving
resources, and for educating the public about the history, people,
and cultures associated with these unique and irreplaceable sites.
Unfortunately, new capabilities
make these sites highly vulnerable to exploitation and destruction
by treasure hunters and souvenir collectors, resulting in their
loss and destruction. Even submerged heritage resources in state
waters, which were to be protected from treasure hunting under
the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, are still subject to commercial
exploitation. Special care must be taken to preserve and protect
these precious resources for scientific study and public interpretation
and appreciation. Special care must also be taken to respect
human remains, including tribal sites.
- Submerged heritage resources
are often treated as commodities for private financial gain,
rather than managed as public scientific resources in need of
protection under laws based on historic preservation and environmental
- In certain situations, submerged
heritage resources cannot be removed from the marine environment
without risk of harm to natural and cultural resources.
- Submerged heritage resources
include diverse prehistoric and historic sites. The interests
of tribes in such resources are often overlooked.
- The extent of damage caused
to the environment by reckless recovery activities is unknown.
- While protections exist in
many state waters and in federal marine protected areas, submerged
heritage resources are exploited and destroyed outside of these
- Certain sunken vessels and
aircraft may be dangerous (e.g., contain unexploded ordnance),
or should not be disturbed out of respect for the crew members
who died on board. There may also be national security reasons
why a sunken vessel or aircraft should not be disturbed.
- States do not always preserve
submerged heritage resources, and states that want to do so are
often unable to because of the historical law of salvage and
- Enact federal legislation
that will: prohibit the destruction and loss of submerged heritage
resources; punish those who injure or destroy these and associated
natural resources; provide for appropriate public access; develop
a research and recovery permitting process; require adherence
to scientific standards; provide for the conservation and disposition
of recovered materials in qualified repositories; ensure sensitive
treatment of any human remains; and protect sovereign immune
vessels and aircraft that have not been expressly abandoned.
- Clarify, through legislation,
the meaning of abandoned in the Abandoned Shipwreck Act so that
states can better preserve submerged heritage resources.
- Support cooperation and collaboration
with tribes, states, and communities on ways to protect submerged
heritage resources, including legal regimes, consistent guidelines
and procedures for evaluating best preservation and recovery
plans, exploration and monitoring programs, and efforts to educate
the public about the value and fragility of these resources.
For more information
The federal government is proposing
to designate Thunder Bay and surrounding waters on Lake Huron
as a National Marine Sanctuary. The proposed sanctuary area,
off the coast of Alpena, Michigan, contains approximately 160
shipwrecks that span more than a century of Great Lakes maritime