The destruction of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) has increased rapidly in the last two hundred years mainly driven by direct and indirect impacts from people. However, with climate change and increasingly violent storm events, a site’s equilibrium with its physical environment is under potentially greater or new threats from natural events.

Gathering Information via Recreational and Technical (GIRT) Scientific Divers is a conservation focused no-impact citizen-science project. It aims to train members to systematically document observable physical and natural features of historic shipwrecks, submerged aircraft and other underwater cultural heritage in an open sea water environment, to facilitate their ongoing protection and management. The focus of the GIRT citizen science project is to enable better understanding of the condition of sites and the factors driving their preservation or deterioration. It also aims to encourage interested people to have an active and positive public archaeology role.

GIRT members (individuals, groups and businesses) ‘adopt-a-wreck’ that is of interest to them and agree to monitor the site using the GIRT documentation methodology at least once a year. Starting in the second year of observations, GIRT members compare their site data and allocate a ‘traffic light’ indication of threat to the site’s preservation (Green, Yellow, Orange, Red). GIRT member’s observations and threat assessments are shown on a map that will be located on the ADOPT WRECK page of this website.

Once the website development is completed, all the records from a survey will be:
•linked to the names of the GIRT members who undertook the survey and their adopted site; and
•compressed and made available for GIRT members to add to their site’s formal record in a statutory database.

For people living in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Australia that statutory database is the Australasian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database (AUCHD).

By being able to add GIRT monitoring records to the AUCHD, or any other statutory database, annual observations of a site’s condition will never be lost and GIRT member contributions will be permanently recognised. Also, promoting the democratisation of information, GIRT member contributions will facilitate a greater understanding of what is happening in our marine coastal environment from climate change and its impact on our underwater cultural heritage. Potentially, with enough GIRT members adding their individual observations, the GIRT citizen science project may be able to go beyond understanding a specific site's ‘equilibrium’ in the environment over time and obtain an understanding of what is happening more broadly to underwater cultural heritage – locally and regionally.

Through your participation in GIRT, you can assist others, to easily see the threats to your adopted site and if there are patterns to events occurring in the marine environment that may impact other nearby wrecks. Through these methods GIRT members can contribute directly to science-based decision making and potentially the prioritisation of activities by relevant authorities or appropriately qualified community groups to protect or undertake rescue archaeology of submerged sites.

In order to collect data on a site, members need access to a camera with an underwater housing, 30m tape, photography scales, slate and pencil and GIRT monitoring templates printed on waterproof paper (besides standard dive gear). Once data has been collected, GIRT members will be encouraged to compare their results with other members, lead the analysis of aspects of research (i.e. marine life, correlation of storm data with observed sediment movements, modelling observed change to other proximal sites…..) and present the results of their surveys or broader analysis of data at conferences such as the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) annual conference.

GIRT Scientific Divers is part of a PhD research project that aims to: better understand the motivation of divers. GIRT members are also asked to complete an anonymous 15-minute online survey to enable better understanding of who is interested to participate as a volunteer in this citizen science project and whether their motivation changes throughout the course of their participation. A survey monkey request will be sent to your email address on completion of training and again approximately two years later. Completing this short online survey will significantly help improve GIRT as a citizen science project and is appreciated.

So, if you are qualified diver over 18 years of age, passionate about preserving our shared underwater heritage for the future and love diving shipwrecks or submerged aircraft, then JOIN GIRT!

To future proof GIRT, beyond the short period of a PhD, this citizen science program is also being established and adminsitered under Wreck Check Inc.

Wreck Check Inc. (Incorporation Number A42646.) is a not-for-profit voluntary association whose members are interested in exploring the world’s oceans to locate and document underwater cultural heritage. Wreck Check members apply their various research talents (scientific, archaeological, historical, technical) to answering questions about the past. In doing this we aspire to work collaboratively with like-minded individuals and organisations around the world on shared maritime cultural heritage projects.

The chairman of Wreck Check Inc. is Graeme Henderson, ex-director of the Western Australian Maritime Museum (retired). Other members work in consultancy, universities, museums or government agencies. Wreck Check members lead particular research projects based on their academic interest and to achieve the objectives of the association.

Research Question

Archaeology (PhD Candidate University of New England)

Citizen science data collection can productively inform underwater cultural heritage management

For heritage located underwater, largely unseen by the public, the need for community understanding, appreciation, and support for ongoing management and protection is significant. This thesis introduces a ‘diving for a purpose’ citizen science program that enables the public to systematically and longitudinally document selected variables about their adopted shipwreck site. Through the public’s voluntary involvement in the citizen science project Gathering Information via Recreational and Technical Scientific Divers (GIRT), the thesis will explore the public good/public benefit derived through individuals’ participation and the value of the collected data to give meaningful information for the purposes of conservation, underwater cultural heritage management, maritime archaeology, and site formation studies.

Andrew (Andy) Viduka is a maritime archaeologist and archaeological objects conservator employed by the Australian Government as the Assistant Director of Maritime and Commonwealth Heritage. Andy co-drafted the Australian Government’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 which he administers, leads the Australian Underwater Cultural Heritage Program, and Australia’s consideration of ratification of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. Andy is actively involved in maritime archaeological projects with the not-for-profit research group Wreck Check Inc. and is a PhD candidate at the University of New England continuing his research interest in linking community outcomes with the discovery and protection of underwater cultural heritage. In 2018 Andy founded the citizen science project Gathering Information via Recreational and Technical (GIRT) Scientific Divers. Andy is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, an ICOMOS – ICUCH, and ICOMOS - ICAHM member, a member of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) and the Australian Citizen Science Association, and a Research Associate of Flinders University.

Andrew was a recipient of a 2018 AIMA Scholarship to assist in delivering the GIRT Citizen Science project.