A HISTORIC shipwreck exposed by storms at Belongil last month is walking away, piece by piece.
NSW Office of Environment and Heritage historic branch director Petula Samios said the wreck had become something of a tourist attraction since it was unearthed by ex-tropical cyclone Oswald and there were now reports of people taking pieces of it away as souveneirs.
"The wreck is a protected historic shipwreck under both the Commonwealth and State law and survives as a fragile part of our maritime archaeological heritage," Ms Samios said.
"The remains, which are exposed within the beach sands of Belongil Beach on Byron Bay's main foreshore, have become a local tourist attraction and we are concerned by reports that some people are carrying away timbers and copper alloy fastenings from the exposed timber hull.
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"It is an offence to damage the archaeological site and associated relics, or to remove anything from the wreck site.
"Penalties up to $1.1m or six months jail can apply."
While the identity of the wrecked ship remained a mystery, Ms Samios said it was believed to be one of four vessels wrecked at Byron during "huge gales" that hit the area in July, 1889.
"In total seven vessels were lost from Byron Bay south to Coffs Harbour during the 1889 storm event," she said.
"The wreck comprises the lower hull of a sailing vessel with outer hull planking and internal frames exposed for about 30 metres in length.
"The hull contains both timber and copper alloy fastenings and copper sheathing (thin plates) that protected the hull, making a mid-late nineteenth century date most likely.
"The discovery provides another glimpse into the fascinating maritime history of our State. These sites form a part of the fabric of our coastal and riverine communities and deserve to be preserved and for their stories to be remembered."
Ms Samios said maritime archologists from the office, aided by staff from the Cape Byron Marine Park, had been monitoring the wreck since its unearthing was reported by Byron Bay resident Greg Thompson and the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum.