Shipwreck Protected Zones

Shipwreck protected zones 2011

The Victorian Heritage Act 1995 and the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976; both provide for the declaration of protected zones in Victorian waters. Offences relating to protected zones are found in the Heritage (Historic Shipwrecks) Regulations 2007.

Protected zones are declared for a small number of fragile and highly significant historic shipwrecks. There are almost 900 ships known to have been wrecked in Victorian waters, but less than half have been located. Only nine of these located shipwrecks have no-entry (protected) zones in place to protect them from boating, fishing, anchoring and diving.

Protected zones vary in size and some are identified by signs or isolated danger marks. All of the currently declared protected zones can be found on the appropriate nautical charts (see AUS 158 Port Phillip South and West Channels, AUS 143 Port Phillip and The Rip; and AUS 182 Approaches to Corner Inlet and Port Albert).

The SS Glenelg foundered suddenly on 25 March 1900, resulting in the loss of 25 passengers and 13 crew. The protected zone is to provide SS Glenelg with additional protection under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. Divers are now required to apply for a permit to access this site in the future.

Where are the protected zones in Victoria?

When boating in the West Channel in Port Phillip Bay you should look out for piles with a yellow cross mark and information boards advising you of Clarence (1850) and Joanna (1857) protected zones. These piles mark the centre of the protected zones for these two sites, both of which have a 100 metre radius.

It is important to steer clear of these zones because the fragile wrecks within them can easily be damaged by careless anchoring or by fishing and diving activities.

HMVS Cerberus (1926) at Black Rock is surrounded by a number of small buoys designating the rectangular protected zone, which extends 25m each side of the centreline of the wreck and 5m beyond the bow and stern.

PS Clonmel (1841) at Port Albert has an isolated danger mark designating the centre of the 50m radius protected zone circle.

The Will o' the Wisp (1853) zone at Swan Island is not marked but the 50m radius protected zone is within a controlled defence area which is off-limits to boating.

The protected zones for the SS City of Launceston (1865) (250m radius around central point) and William Salthouse (1841) (250m radius around central point) in Port Phillip Bay,  Alert (1893) (500m radius around central point) off Cape Schanck, and SS Glenelg (1900) (500 radius around central point) are not physically marked, but their positions are on charts. The exact locations of all the protected zones in Victoria are listed in the table at the bottom of this page.

Recreational fishing on historic shipwrecks & within protected zones

Anglers are allowed to fish near the majority of historic shipwreck sites – only historic shipwrecks in declared protected zones are off-limits to boat access. However, anglers should be careful about placement of their anchors (and also weighted shot lines) because it is illegal to interfere with, damage or destroy historic shipwrecks and severe penalties apply.

It is an offence to enter, anchor, fish or trawl in a protected zone without a permit. People found within a protected zone without a permit can be issued with on-the-spot fines of $239 (current at July 2010), and multiple fines can be issued if more than one offence is detected. If prosecuted, people may be issued with fines of up to $5972.

How can shipwrecks get damaged by fishing?

Damage to historic shipwrecks can occur as a result of dragging and recovering anchors. Historic shipwrecks are fragile structures that often have weakened and vulnerable hull remains due to their long submersion underwater. Timber hull remains are particularly at risk from anchors as this material, while sometimes appearing solid, is in fact quite soft and easily damaged. Hooked anchors can break timbers and drag them away from the site.

Iron and steel hull remains in the marine environment develop protective concretions over many years, and anchors have been known to damage and remove these concretions, exposing fresh metal to new corrosion. Quite often there is only a small amount of solid metal left in the structure, so any interference from anchors which causes an increase in corrosion can do serious damage to the site. There are sometimes loose artefacts on the surface of the seabed on or near historic shipwrecks that can also be easily damaged and destroyed by anchors and heavily weighted shotlines.

If I can’t fish on shipwrecks, where can I fish?

Many other fishing locations are located in Port Phillip Bay, including some new sites that have been created especially for recreational anglers. Visit Port Phillip Bay recreational fishing reefs for more details, or ask your local recreational angling club or association for recommended fishing locations.

Recreational diving on historic shipwrecks & within protected zones

SCUBA divers are allowed to access almost all historic shipwrecks for their recreational diving activities. In fact, Heritage Victoria encourages suitably qualified and experienced SCUBA divers to visit Victoria’s historic shipwrecks as it is a marvelous way to explore and interact with our significant underwater heritage places.

All historic shipwrecks have heritage value, and they are often fragile sites. Care should be taken when diving these sites to avoid interfering with the site (including the sediment in and around the wreck), the wreck structure and associated historic relics. It is an offence to interfere with, damage or disturb historic shipwreck sites, or to take relics from them, and heavy penalties apply. Divers should adhere to the motto ‘take only pictures, leave only bubbles’ when exploring historic shipwrecks.

Some historic shipwrecks are particularly fragile and significant, and have the additional layer of protection through the declaration of protected zones. Divers can apply for a permit to access protected zones for recreational diving purposes. Heritage Victoria does has a policy of issuing permits for some but not all of these sites. For instance, although a fragile site, the protected zone around the William Salthouse prevents general access but allows recreational diving with a permit. The protected zone around the HMVS Cerberus was declared to protect people from injury as the wreck is unstable and potentially dangerous to visitors therefore permits are not issued for recreational diving activities.

Divers should contact Heritage Victoria on for further information about accessing protected zones.

Reporting historic shipwrecks

Do you fish at a secret shipwreck location? While there are almost 800 ships known to have been lost in Victorian waters, more than half of them have never been found. Anglers often fish at locations they prefer to keep confidential – but it is a legal requirement to report the locations of historic shipwrecks to the Executive Director of Heritage Victoria, or to the Minister responsible for the Historic Shipwrecks Act (in this case, the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities). In practice, the discovery or location of all shipwrecks can be reported to Heritage Victoria who will forward the information to the Commonwealth Minister. 

The Heritage Council of Victoria has developed a policy regarding release of the locations of newly discovered or reported historic shipwrecks. This policy enables Heritage Victoria to keep newly discovered shipwreck locations confidential until 10 years after the discovery or reporting of the site. The policy and other information on accessing shipwrecks is detailed in Public access to Historic Shipwrecks.

Clarence protected zone signProtected zones in Victoria

-38. 486944
144. 750556
500m radius

HMVS Cerberus
-37. 967382
145. 007876
0.5h rectangle

SS City of Launceston
-38. 076829
144. 826321
250m radius

-38. 202570
144. 723253
100m radius

PS Clonmel
-38. 744000
146. 677800
50m radius

SS Glenelg
500m radius

-38. 207960
144. 730102
100m radius

William Salthouse
-38. 272943
144. 705493
250m radius

Will O’ the Wisp
-38. 241498
144. 701159
50m radius