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, www.environment.gov.au (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.
- For more information about wrecks:
- The Australian National Shipwreck Database can be used to find names, locations and information on shipwrecks.
- Visit the Australian National Shipwreck Database to report all newly discovered wrecks to the Australian environment department.
- The Queensland environment department has Dive Guides available for the Yongala, Gothenburg and Lady Bowen shipwrecks.
- The Queensland Museum developed Conservation Management Plans for the SS Yongala, SS Gothenburg and QGS Llewellyn. The Department of Environment and Science and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are reviewing these three plans and developing new Conservation Management Plans for Foam, HMS Pandora and HMCS Mermaid. Contact the Queensland environment department for more information.
- The Magnetic Island Shipwreck Guide highlights the 20-plus shipwrecks around Magnetic Island and includes best practice guidelines.
- The Historic Shipwreck Foam (1893) Survey Report 2015 was prepared and published as part of the Authority’s Research Publication Series.
- Map of Maritime Cultural Heritage Special Management Area offshore of Bowen
- Map of Maritime Cultural Heritage Special Management Area near the Frankland Islands
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.