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Edney, J 2018, 'Lust for rust : wreck divers and the management of underwater cultural heritage', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright J Edney


Shipwrecks are mysterious, beautiful and evocative. They offer divers unique, diverse and more challenging diving experiences than general scuba diving. It is not surprising, therefore, that interest in and demand for wreck diving has grown as the recreational diving community has expanded and matured over the past six decades. However, shipwrecks are also fragile, non-renewable finite resources, and important elements of our underwater cultural heritage. Wreck diving can result in negative impacts on the cultural heritage values of shipwrecks. An understanding of wreck diver behaviour, motivations and attitudes can assist heritage managers to balance protection of underwater cultural heritage and diver access to high quality diving experiences. The purpose of this research was to address the gaps in the literature pertaining to wreck diver behaviour, motivations and attitudes, and to identify opportunities for enhanced integration of divers and the management of underwater cultural heritage, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region.

Pragmatism and mixed methods methodology was used to address the research objectives. The underwater behaviour of 20 wreck divers at Chuuk Lagoon, in the Federated States of Micronesia, was examined and analysed to gain an understanding of wreck diver behaviour. A sample of 724 wreck divers participated in a self-completed web-based survey, targeted at the key source populations of wreck divers who visit the Asia-Pacific region. Data from the survey was used to analyse wreck diver motivations and attitudes.

Outcomes of the study of in-water behaviour revealed that the majority of wreck divers behave responsibly underwater and do not participate in behaviours detrimental to the cultural heritage values of shipwrecks. A small minority of divers are responsible for the majority of contact behaviours, and the primary source of these behaviours were men and Australians. Less experienced divers were responsible for more contact behaviours than more experienced divers. The in-water behavioural study of divers represents a key contribution of this research by providing the first empirical description and analysis of wreck diver behaviour.

Survey findings revealed the majority of wreck divers are male, aged between 35 and 64 years of age, hold a Bachelor or higher degree, and are experienced divers with high levels of dive certification. The majority of wreck divers are primarily motivated to see historically significant shipwrecks, artefacts and marine life and to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the underwater environment. However, motivations are complex and influenced by certain diver profile variables. This research generated a conceptual model of wreck diver motivations, the Wreck Diver Motivations Model. The model illustrates the diversity and complexities in diver motivations, providing a more comprehensive understanding of diver motivations.

Most wreck divers indicated in-principle support for the use of management controls to protect wrecks. However, only two specific controls were supported: the use of penalties and permits. There was strong opposition to the exclusion of divers from shipwrecks. Similar to motivations, attitudes were also found to be complex and influenced by certain diver profile variables. Two models of diver attitudes were generated from this research, the Wreck Diver Opposition to Management Controls Model and Wreck Diver Support for Management Controls Model. These models illustrate the complexities and diversity inherent in diver attitudes, enriching understanding of wreck diver attitudes. The three conceptual models generated from the research make a key contribution to heritage management, and scuba and outdoor recreation research.

A review of the literature regarding approaches to managing diver impacts on underwater cultural heritage identified three key opportunities to integrate divers in the management of underwater cultural heritage. These were engagement and partnership programs, maritime archaeology training for divers, and collaboration and consultation with divers regarding the management of sites. The Wreck Diver Motivations Model can also assist in enhancing integration of divers and the management of underwater cultural heritage by providing managers with insights into the effects of management decisions on diver experiences and preferences, on different segments of the wreck diving community. The two conceptual models of diver attitudes allow managers to identify the segments of the wreck diving community likely to oppose or support specific management controls, and gauge likely levels of voluntary compliance with management rules.