Postprint of: Edney, J 2016, 'A framework for managing diver impacts on historic shipwrecks', Journal of Maritime Archaeology, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 271-297.
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Shipwrecks are becoming increasingly popular and, therefore important attractions for recreational scuba divers. Divers’ usage of these sites has the potential to create a range of adverse impacts on their cultural heritage values. Impacts associated with recreational scuba diving include boat anchor and mooring damage, impairment of site integrity and stability, the effects of intentional and unintentional contact with shipwrecks and artifacts, as well as divers’ exhaled air bubbles coming into contact with shipwrecks. While these consequences may not present a major threat in comparison to other human impacts, such as fishing activities, extractive industries or commercial salvage, their cumulative effect can be significant, particularly at sites where visitation levels are high. Unlike natural events such as storms, diver impacts can be controlled and managing these impacts is an important component of a heritage management strategy for any site. Heritage managers face the difficult challenge of, on the one hand, balancing divers’ access to important underwater cultural heritage sites, and on the other hand, protecting these sites. This paper outlines the causes and nature of potential recreational diver impacts on shipwrecks, briefly describing a range of management approaches that can mitigate such impacts, and presents a framework for the management of diver impacts on cultural heritage values of historic shipwrecks. The framework is designed to assist managers in deciding on appropriate management actions and priorities for particular sites.