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2009 Award of Distinction

M24 Midget Submarine Wreck

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Technical Brief

Monitoring systems for historic shipwreck sites

As the submarine wreck site is approximately three nautical miles off the coast of Sydney, in open waters close to passing vessel traffic, the site is accessible to deep wreck divers and highly vulnerable to inadvertent damage from fishing nets, large vessels and anchoring. The only practical way to ensure 24-hour protection of the wreck site and guarantee that the provisions of the protective heritage legislation could be enacted at the site was to use surveillance technology.

The Australian Federal Government and the State Government of New South Wales cooperated to install a sophisticated in-water acoustic and camera surveillance system at the submarine site. The system, composed of two buoys and a SonaSurv Monitoring System, allows for vessel tracking and in-water sound detection within the no-entry zone around the wreck. The buoys are stationed within the exclusion zone, along with the monitoring station. Graphical display of sonar detection signals warns of intrusion into the exclusion zone and an acoustic signal raises an alert.

Communication between the surveillance buoys and the shore is via a 3G mobile telephone network. The information transmitted from the sonar buoys can be viewed in realtime or recorded, and is viewed either from computers in the Heritage Branch office or on tablets (portable units that report signals from the buoys) that can be carried virtually anywhere.

The system has an in-built “health check-up” facility, which identifies any problems and eliminates the need for the staff to check functionality on a daily basis. The buoys and monitoring system are supported by a land-based surveillance camera situated on an overlooking headland. Although this is approximately three nautical miles away, the camera can pan and zoom to identify any vessel that has entered the rotection zone.

The use of this type of cutting-edge technology has meant that the Heritage Branch has been able to monitor and protect the site 24 hours a day in virtually any conditions without having to go out on site. This significantly improves site safety, thus protecting the qualities underlying the M24’s cultural heritage values.

Adapted from the “M24 Midget Submarine” UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards entry submission.