NAUTICAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY
Law and order on the final frontier
GO WEST young man and conquer that last great frontier!" That was the cry of the American pioneers in the last century. Similar feelings are evoked in divers when we talk about diving: the sea is the last bastion of freedom, a place full of treasures that would be lost to the elements if divers were not there to liberate them.
The reality, however, is less romantic, and these beliefs are inevitably flawed.
First, all man-made items on the seabed belong to someone. Even so, many that remained there for tens if not hundreds of years have been removed, so the experiences enjoyed and championed by divers for decades are diminishing for newcomers.
Second is the problem of the ever-growing number of people entering the water. Just as population growth in the American West necessitated order, management and control, these new pressures on the underwater heritage call for greater responsibility and wider co-operation. To this end more and more archaeological projects in which divers can take part are being developed.
Unfortunately, much archaeological material has already fallen foul of predation. The resource under the sea should not be the preserve of an elite few divers who "got there first", but to all who wish to see it. We have a duty to protect and record our wrecks just as many other nations protect theirs.
Fortunately in England we have a national record of maritime sites. The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England has brought together details of almost 32,000 wreck incidents in one public archive, open to anyone who wants to see it.
Let's hope that divers of today and into the next millennium are prepared to support and be part of this initiative, allowing for responsible management of the last great frontier, and preserving an environment we can all share.
Appeared in DIVER - June 1998