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The Kelly Tarlton Award for Recognition of Services to Underwater Heritage.

New Zealand's incredible coastline and our heritage as a maritime nation has made it a rich source of shipwrecks with untold stories of tragedy, bravery and intrigue. As a way to acknowledge the contribution New Zealand divers have made to preserving this heritage, New Zealand Underwater Heritage Group has created an award to recognise standout explorers and conservationists who have made a notable impact through innovative ideas, maritime conservation projects, or publications - the Kelly Tarlton Award for Recognition of Services to Underwater Heritage.

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Kelly Tarlton – the man

Marine explorer, diver, conservationist and treasure hunter, Kelly Tarlton (1937-1985) was posthumously inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2012 and is New Zealand’s equivalent of Jacques Cousteau. Kelly is best known for establishing his namesake educational marine aquarium in Auckland. He died seven weeks after it opened. The see-through curved acrylic tunnels he invented have been copied in aquariums around the world. An early convert to scuba diving, Kelly started a commercial diving company and his pioneer work in developing early diving and salvaging equipment allowed him to find and dive on some of New Zealand’s most famous shipwrecks. Two signature wrecks are the Elingamite and the Tasmania. Renowned for his meticulous research, he dived on more sunken ships than any other New Zealander. These successful endeavors led him to create the Museum of Shipwrecks in the Bay of Islands in the 1970s, and later KellyTarlton's underwater aquarium.

The Award

The Kelly Tarlton Recognition Award for Services to Underwater Heritagerecognizes individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions through research, practice, or advocacy to underwater heritage, maritime archaeology or maritime history. The award recognizes members of the underwater heritage community for long-term accomplishments or those who have made a notable impact through a significant innovation, body of work or publication. A candidate’s contributions can include innovative ideas or maritime conservation projects, including services that have promoted underwater heritage in New Zealand communities. The award includes a certificate of recognition, and an invitation for the recipient to present a keynote talk at the annual UHG Conference. A public citation for the award will be placed on the UHG website. While no monetary award is made, awardees will be assisted with travel and sustenance costs to attend the UHGconference.

The Kelly Tarlton Award trophy features a propeller blade retaining nut and a porthole securing mechanism recovered from the wreck of the Elingamite. Made by Bruce Alexander.

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Kelly’s wife Rosemary and daughter Fiona congratulate Pete Mesley

Pete Mesley
The NZUHG committee had little difficulty selecting Pete Mesley as the 2021 recipient for the Kelly Tarlton Recognition Award.

Many of our readers will be familiar with the name Pete Mesley, he’s been around a while!

His wife, Kim, a good Kiwi lady, caught him in London and transported him back to the warmer waters of New Zealand in 1994.

Originally from Zimbabwe Pete learnt to dive in the chilly UK waters where he discovered the excitement of diving on and searching for shipwrecks.

When on an overseas holiday Pete became frustrated with the lack of challenging diving and sometimes having to dive with divers with very little diving experience.

To solve this niggle, he established a diving tourist business with his now trademark brands; Lust4Rust and Shock&Awe Big Animal Diving.

He has dedicated himself to researching, finding, diving and photographing wrecks and leading expeditions to wreck diving meccas such as Truk Lagoon, Bikini Atoll, Sri Lanka, South China Sea, Galapagos, Palau, Socorro etc etc, all the way to the wrecks in the Great Lakes in the USA. One of his favorite’s here in New Zealand, is the Russian cruise ship >Mikhail Lermontov<.

He is one of the Southern Hemisphere's most experienced technical divers and Instructors.

A PADI Course Director, TecDeep Instructor Trainer. Advanced Trimix Instructor for, TDI in two CCR disciplines (Inspiration and JJ). Prehospital care, Advanced Life-support and DMT (Dive Medical Technician) and chamber operator.

He has always embraced new technologies that involves mixed gas diving and rebreathers and the digital age of photography.

He was one of two still photographers brought in for a National Geographic expedition to dive HMHS Britannic, the sister ship to the Titanic. A few years later he returned to dive her again. This was indeed a recognition of his standing within the circles of the top technical divers and photographers internationally.

He is currently on a mission to photograph wrecks both here in New Zealand and overseas in a 3D format known as Photogrammetry. This requires taking 100s if not 1000’s of images of a wreck then with postproduction software, delivering an image that shows every detail of the wreck at a certain date in time. Thus, establishing a Baseline for future researchers when they are studying the slow deterioration of wrecks.

Divers will be able to see in detail the state of the wreck they plan to dive and formulate a dive profile for diving the wreck.

It’s a mammoth task Pete has set himself!

The above is just a quick snapshot of Pete’s achievements. To appreciate what he has achieved just Google him!

Finally in his own words, “Training is important to me, but not the driving force behind what I do! It’s actually getting out there and doing the diving!"

Congratulations Pete, from New Zealand and International divers.

keith gordon kelly tarlton award

The recipient of the 2019 NZUHG Kelly Tarlton Award was presented this year at the Wellington Annual Conference to Keith Gordon. Rosemary Tarlton presented the trophy incorporating artefacts recovered from the wreck of the Elingamite to Keith. The panel of judges awarded the trophy to Keith for his services to diving, shipwreck exploration and underwater heritage. In the photo Keith Gordon holds the Kelly Tarlton Trophy presented by Rosmary Tarlton (centre) while Dave Moran looks on.


The 2017 recipient of the Kelly Tarlton Award trophy for services to New Zealand underwater heritage was awarded to the late Noel Hilliam, NZUHG member of Dargaville.

The inaugural award was presented to Noel’s wife Julie and family, by Rosemary Tarlton, wife of the late Kelly Tarlton and their daughter Fiona, at a ceremony held in the Dargaville Museum on Sunday, 17th December. Noel was acknowledged for the significant contribution he had made to research, discovery and conservation of local maritime and shipwreck history. Many results of Noel’s work and discoveries are on display in the Dargaville museum, of which he was also a major driving force in its establishment and construction.

Julie Hilliam recounted many interesting antidotes of her life with Noel, often with much humour, which brought laughter to the audience. Kelly Tarlton had been born down the road at Te Kopuru and it was revealed that both he and Noel had shared early life in attending local school together, as members of the local scout group, and later in life involvement together with shipwreck projects such as the nearby wreck of the French warship L’Alcmene. It was commented how fitting it was that this initial award was being made to Noel, who in some-ways had been associated with Kelly in their early lives and then later with shipwreck exploration.

Other members of Noel’s family, including Noel’s brother Bill and his son Tex, recounted incidents of Noel’s life including his constructing a 2-seat aircraft which he would fly from his farm home to search for exposed shipwrecks along the nearby coast. A number of wreck discoveries were made this way, including Noel landing on the beach to investigate exposed wreck remains he had sighted from the air.

A lot of Noel’s projects have still to be completed and discoveries he made to be fully investigated, He was a vast source of local shipwreck knowledge; unfortunately, he took a lot of his research with him. It is hoped others will now step up and take over from where Noel left off.

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The 2018 Kelly Tarlton Award for Services to Underwater Heritage was presented jointly to Edith and Lynton Diggle by Rosemary Tarlton accompanied by her daughters, Nicole and Fiona. Although a bittersweet occasion, it was good to acknowledge the Diggles’ significant contribution to shipwreck historical research and for authoring books covering the subject. over many years to NZUHG.


We will greatly miss Lynton with his sharp wit and penetrating questions. We hope Edith will carry on the good work. Lynton was always willing to get involved and challenge the status quo. Lynton advocated for the recovery of the Daring and would be pleased to know that his lobbying has been successful with a private group stepping forward and establishing a trust to achieve this substantial rescue.


Edith and Lynton made an amazing team. Their dedication to researching New Zealand’s shipwrecks was nothing but extraordinary. With fellow NZUHG member Keith Gordon, they co-authored the 8th edition of the New Zealand Shipwreck book. Within its 576 pages over 530 wrecks are recorded! Edith and Lynton went on to publish two “Companion” books to further record new wrecks and further information uncovered.


Many of you will recall in recent editions of this Newsletter, and also in Skipper magazine, Lynton’s thoughts and comments on the future of the uncovered wreck of the Daring on the west coast of the North Island. He was not one to suffer fools gladly!

A team of two very sharp minds who were not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get on with the sometime difficult and frustrating process of recording our maritime shipwreck history, Lynton and Edith are certainly worthy joint recipients of the 2018 Award.

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