UK Divers, Plunderers or Protectors?

“In a recent survey by leading dive travel specialists, http://www.Ifyoudive.com, over two thirds of divers indicated they are against “treasure hunting” on wrecks.

The two-week online poll “Is wreck treasure hunting wrong?” drew comments and votes from divers around the UK and the world. It precedes the conclusion of the three-month UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s Wreck Amnesty on the 24 April 2001 where divers must declare recovered artefacts or face prosecution.

Many voters believed removing artefacts from wrecks was “wrong” but felt there should be some flexibility in removing valuable historical and archaeological items for preservation. Most agreed that personal souvenir hunting was not acceptable dispelling the theory that the majority of wreck divers are simply out to hunt for treasure.

According to http://www.Ifyoudive.com Head of Dive, Tim Barke, “UK divers are well known throughout the world for their enthusiasm for wreck diving and salvaging. It appears from these results, however, that the image of UK divers as ‘Treasure Hunters’ or ‘Plunderers’ is unfounded.”

Due to centuries of prosperous sea trade and two World Wars, the waters around the British Isles coastline are littered with diveable wrecks. These have become internationally renowned dive sites. Over the years, however, many of these wrecks have slowly been stripped of items including portholes, latches, toilets and even steel railings. “The wrecks around the British Isles are a great tourism draw for overseas divers wishing to explore and experience part of the maritime history,” Mr Barke states. “These wrecks need to be protected to encourage more tourists to dive in the UK and it would appear that the majority of UK divers agree.”

Mr Barke believes that one option is for the UK to follow the example of government policies in sections of the Caribbean, Red Sea, Mediterranean and South Pacific where gathering of all artefacts is banned on specific sites. In these areas “the dive industry, local government and archaeological societies have joined together to preserve the sites,” he says, “a large percentage of the ‘treasure’ is still intact and is a huge tourism attraction simply because divers feel they are able to explore a real wreck with real treasure they can touch but not take.”