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Visiting maritime heritage sites

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park hosts a rich and diverse maritime cultural heritage. Nearly 800 recorded ship and plane wrecks are resting at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, with very few discovered.

The shallow nature of some reef areas and the region’s susceptibility to storms and cyclones has contributed to a large number of wrecks.

Wrecks provide a unique experience for visitors by providing an insight into the history and past events and a haven for abundant marine biodiversity.

Shipwrecks are sensitive areas and need to be respected. In addition to the protection provided through protected zones and special management areas, there are responsible reef practices for visitors to follow.

The table below outlines the six historic shipwreck protected zones under national maritime heritage legislation in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. A permit is required from the Australian Environment Department to access these sites.

Two nationally significant Royal Australian Air Force WWII aircraft wrecks, shown on the following maps, are also protected through special management areas, and a permit is required from us through permits online to access these sites.

    Historic Shipwreck Protected Zones

    Ship Date Wrecked Location Boundaries of the protected zone
    HMS Pandora 1791 Pandora Entrance (near Raine Island) 500m radius of the wreck including the wreck site itself
    HMCS Mermaid 1829 Flora Reef (northeast of Babinda) 797m radius of the wreck including the wreck site itself
    Foam 1893 Myrmidon Reef (off Cardwell) 200m radius of the wreck including the wreck site itself
    SS Yongala 1911 Off Cape Bowling Green (south of Townsville) 797m radius of the wreck including the wreck site itself
    SS Gothenburg 1857 Old Reef (northeast of Cape Upstart) 200m radius of the wreck including the wreck site itself
    QGS Llewellyn 1919 Off St Bees Island (Whitsundays) 500m radius of the wreck including the wreck site itself

    National Shipwreck Database, (2018)

    Maritime Cultural Heritage Protection Special Management Areas

    Two nationally-significant Royal Australian Air Force WW II aircraft wrecks are protected in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

    Two special management areas — each one-kilometre square — are in place around a Catalina off Bowen and a Catalina that crashed near the Frankland Islands south of Cairns.

    Boats can travel through the special management areas but cannot stop (unless in an emergency) and cannot conduct any fishing activity or anchor.

    The special management areas are part of the Zoning Plan. If you break the rules, there are significant penalties, particularly in sensitive areas.

    Those wanting to access these sites for cultural heritage purposes, including monitoring, research and stabilising the wreck, will need to apply to us for a permit.

    Martha Ridgway Shipwreck

    A new shipwreck has been discovered on the Great Barrier Reef – it’s believed to be the Martha Ridgway, which was lost on a voyage over 170 years ago.

    Check out our fantastic video that shows the mysterious shipwreck site and how we found it.


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    Shipwreck – Australia - © QPWS - Photographer: Victor Huertas
    Updated 12 Feb 2024
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