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Many shipwrecks act as havens for marine life

The aluminium in aeroplane wrecks is toxic to sea life

SHUTTERSTOCK

Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Boston, USA, the locations of more than 200 shipwrecks have largely been kept secret (Meyer-Kaiser says she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to study them) to protect them from looting by divers. Looting is a problem for wreck sites worldwide. The British cruiser HMS Exeter, which sank in the Java Sea in 1942 and was designated a war grave, has been stripped for scrap metal. In 2023, a forensic tagging system, pioneered by Historic England, was introduced to make tracking and recovering maritime artefacts easier.

However, Meyer-Kaiser’s research suggests that another activity could be causing much more damage: commercial fishing. At the Stellwagen sanctuary, every known wreck has been affected by fishing gear, which can weaken structures and make them less resilient to storms. In response, the sanctuary launched a pilot project called the Shipwreck Avoidance Program, and is working with fishing communities to enable maritime activities to continue while ensuring the preservation of the wrecks. ‘So far,’ says Meyer-Kaiser, ‘it seems to be working.’ l

MAY 2024 . 9

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