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Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines

Part II. Guidelines

J. Creating and Operating Underwater Parks or Preserves

Section 4(b) of the Act encourages the States to create underwater parks or areas to provide additional protection for shipwreck sites. The creation of underwater parks or preserves provides many other positive benefits as well, such as increasing the public's awareness of and appreciation for the nation's maritime heritage, providing additional recreational opportunities for sport divers and fishermen, generating tourism revenues, and providing additional protection for natural resources and habitat areas located within the boundaries of the park or area. In addition, underwater parks or preserves could be linked with existing maritime museums, floating historic vessels, lighthouses, and lifesaving stations to provide the public with a broader interpretation of the nation's maritime history.

The following guidelines are offered to assist the States in creating and operating underwater parks or preserves.

Guideline 1: Consult with the various interest groups.

Public meetings should be held prior to the creation of any underwater park or preserve. Suggestions for creating and operating underwater parks or preserves should be sought from local and regional interest groups, businesses and government agencies (e.g., sport divers, dive clubs, dive boat operators, dive shops, recreational fishermen, underwater archeologists, marine biologists, chambers of commerce, recreation and tourism organizations, and applicable State and Federal agencies). Once an underwater park or preserve is created, an association or board of local citizens who represent the various interest groups should be established and consulted periodically on the operation of the park or preserve.

Guideline 2: Prepare an environmental and economic impact assessment.

Prior to creating an underwater park or preserve, an assessment of the environmental and economic impacts that would result should be prepared. Assessments should include descriptions of known historic and non-historic shipwrecks, other cultural resources, natural resources, and habitat areas located within the proposed boundaries of the park or preserve; current uses and potential impacts to the shipwrecks, other resources and areas; potential recreational, educational, preservation and tourism benefits; potential impacts to businesses (such as commercial fishing); and budget estimates of costs for initial development and subsequent annual operation of the proposed park or preserve. Draft assessments should be made available to the State's shipwreck advisory board, if one exists, and the various interest groups for public review and comment.

Guideline 3: Specify the unit's purpose, significance, boundaries, and any special conditions and constraints.

Legislation or regulations that authorize the creation of an underwater park or preserve should establish the unit's purpose and significance, specify its boundaries, and identify any special conditions and constraints. When the unit is to be managed by a Federal agency on behalf of a State, the enabling legislation or written management agreement should specify how the unit, its resources and habitat areas are to be managed (see Guideline No. 7 in subpart B, Part II, of these "Guidelines" for a discussion on the Federal management of State-owned resources).

Guideline 4: Develop a general management plan.

A general management plan should be prepared to guide future planning and actions for each underwater park or preserve. A general management plan should discuss the unit's legislated purpose and significance; identify major issues affecting management and use of the unit and its resources; and identify management objectives, planning needs, and priorities.

Guideline 5: Develop a resource management plan.

A resource management plan should be prepared for each underwater park or preserve. A resource management plan should discuss the significance and condition of known natural and cultural resources; assess the potential presence of as yet unknown resources; identify survey, identification, documentation, evaluation, interpretation, protection, and long-term preservation needs, priorities, and cost estimates; and discuss impacts to the natural and cultural resources from natural causes, visitor use, park development, and other activities. The plan should be revised periodically to reflect scientific data collected during archival research, field surveys and preservation treatments; changing environmental conditions; effects from visitor use and development; and changing park priorities. The resource management plan should be the basis upon which multi-year programming and action schedules are prepared for each underwater park or preserve.

Guideline 6: Interpret and facilitate public access to shipwreck sites in underwater parks and preserves.

Shipwreck sites in parks and preserves should be marked with buoys and appear on nautical charts to encourage and promote non-disturbing recreational exploration. Known hazards should be reduced or removed. Information about dangers should be posted in prominent places and included in park brochures. Recognizing that shipwreck sites are of interest to non-divers as well as divers, interpretive materials should be developed for both interest groups. For example, permanent signs could be placed in and around the shipwreck as part of an underwater trail. In addition, pamphlets and other publications describing the unit's shipwrecks and the area's maritime history could be made available. Dock side exhibit areas and a maritime museum could be established in the unit or interpretive materials could be made available to the local community's museum or historical society. Videotapes of shipwreck sites also could be shown in an exhibit area or museum and made available for purchase.

Guideline 7: Protect shipwreck sites located within underwater parks and preserves.

Moorings should be placed at shipwreck sites located within parks and preserves to protect the sites and surrounding natural resources and habitat areas from inadvertent anchor damage. Alternatively, dive boats should be required to anchor off the site. In addition, activities that would damage or destroy shipwreck sites located within parks and preserves should be prohibited or restricted so that the multiple values and uses of the sites are maintained. For example, souvenir collecting, commercial salvage, and treasure hunting at shipwrecks (whether historic or non-historic) should be prohibited in underwater parks and preserves. In addition, dredging and trawling activities should be limited to those areas of the park or preserve that do not contain shipwreck sites, natural resources and habitat areas. Also, archeological research should be regulated through a permit system.

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