Underwater Cultural Heritage in the Pacific

Mr Elia Nakoro with Dr Hans van Tilburg at the Honolulu UCH Conference (c)UNESCO/NOAA

From the Stone Age to the Atomic Age

The Pacific Ocean contains a wealth of underwater cultural heritage encompassing all traces of human existence that lie or were lying underwater and have a cultural, archaeological or historical character.  Underwater sites in Oceania span human history from the Stone Age to the Atomic Age.  Due to the cultural richness of underwater heritage in the region and its complex history, the protection of these sites is of high importance for the region. Moreover, the potential for sustainable tourism in partnership with diving industry has been attracting a growing attention.

Launching of Regional Cooperation

The first regional workshop on the Pacific underwater cultural heritage took place in December 2009 in Honiara, Solomon Islands. As possible steps towards building a capacity for managing UCH, participants at the workshop identified the following needs; systematic recording and maintenance of a database of submerged and underwater sites; exploring licensing activities directed at underwater sites; and developing a training and education programme for managers.  The papers presented by experts at the workshop were compiled, edited and published as "Underwater Cultural Heritage in Oceania" in 2010. 

Pacific Underwater Cultural Heritage Capacity Building Programme

Based on the recommendations made at the Honiara workshop, a Feasibility Study on Pacific Capacity Building Programme was prepared by Flinders University with UNESCO support.  

 The 2nd Asia-Pacific Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage (Honolulu, 12 - 16 May 2014) was another milestone in the regional cooperation in UCH. Some 135 UCH experts and professionals from 27 countries got together to present papers and engage in discussions. The Best Paper Award was awarded to Mr Elia Nakoro, the Fiji Museum, for his paper "The Fiji Museum's Efforts towards the Preservation of Underwater Cultural Heritage Sites in Fiji".

SAMOA Pathway Outcome Document (2014)

SAMOA Pathway Outcome Document adopted at the 3rd UN International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) (Samoa, 2014) acknowledged the SIDS provides support to SIDS's efforts to conserve their valuable UCH (paragraph 54) and invites SIDS to become parties to the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (paragraph 58).

Model for a National Act on the Protection of Cultural Heritage

The text gives an example of a comprehensive law on the protection of cultural heritage, encompassing land-based as well as submerged immovable heritage as well as movable objects.  It is based on internationally accepted standards for heritage protection, in particular on the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. But also on the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Expert and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property).  A model export certificate elaborated by UNESCO in cooperation with the World Customs Organisation (WCO) is added to it.  The formulations used are suggestions only and in no way binding.  Please consider that better formulations might be available and more appropriate for the national context.  Please also consider the inclusion of regulations on natural heritage, if applicable.


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