A Canadian government archaeologist explores the wreck of HMS Erebus. (Parks Canada)

Shipwrecks, other submerged sites to be protected

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CBC reports the Canadian government is planning new regulations to protect  underwater wrecks and historical sites. Now, there is only a patchwork of rules put in place by provincial and territorial governments.

Tens of thousands of shipwrecks

Canada has over 70,000km of coastline on the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans plus huge freshwater lakes at the heart of the country and many waterways. One expert estimates there are between 30,000 and 40,000 shipwrecks that could be military, commercial or private.

When studied by archaeologists, the sites can reveal much about the country’s history, particularly given that the extensive waterways were used for transportation by Indigenous peoples and later on, by Europeans.

Sites damaged in many ways

There are many threats to submerged ships and other historical sites. “Ships that were intact 20 years ago have been impacted by shipping anchors and…zebra mussels which place a great deal of strain and additional weight on shipwreck sites,” says Kimberly Monk, a professor of historical and maritime archaeology at Trent and Brock Universities.

“Marine aggregates, commercial fishing…and treasure salvage activity will compromise archaeological sites.”

Prof. Kimberly Monk says it is difficult to enforce rules about submerged historical sites and authorities often rely on communities and educational efforts to help protect them.

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Famous wrecks needed special government orders

The impetus to develop new rules to protect submerged historical sites may have come from the recent discovery of of two 19th century British ships in Arctic waters. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were part of Sir John Franklin’s expedition. Because there were no regulations, the Canadian government had to pass cabinet orders to protect the two sites.

The government plans to hold public consultations before developing new regulations. Documents obtained by CBC suggest the target for implementation was summer 2019.

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