Modern shipwrecks act as a hidden pollution risk, as they may release toxic components into the environment depending on the state of preservation. These sites act as open systems, with the exchange of material (sediment, water, toxic fluids and solids) and energy (wave, tidal, storm) across system boundaries. Formation processes at these sites are therefore driven by a combination of chemical, biological and physical processes. Around the coastlines of Europe, numerous WWI and WWII wrecks are slowly corroding, acting as nuclei for environmental contamination. WWI wrecks are also increasingly recognized from an archaeological perspective. The UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage provides protection for sites over 100 years old and strongly emphasises the use of non-destructive methods. WWI wrecks now fall under the protection of the Convention. Whilst 48 states have ratified the UNESCO 2001 Convention, the Republic of Ireland and the UK have not. In the Republic of Ireland, this is mitigated by blanket protection of all wrecks over 100 years. Consequently, approximately 400 wrecks have become protected and require governmental management. In contrast, the UK lacks blanket protection legislation, relying on the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) which affords protection only to specific vessels based on their importance. As such, under this legal framework, there is additional pressure to ensure that WWI underwater cultural heritage in UK waters is documented, protected and managed to the best of our abilities.
This PhD project will examine the preservation state and evolution of select WWI wrecks in the Irish Sea. Greater understanding of the physical processes that effect the long term stability and evolution of these sites is paramount in their protection.