About the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage

© UNESCO/A. Vanzo
Pecio cerca de Papua-Nueva Guinea.

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2001, intends to enable States to better protect this heritage.

Main lines

The Convention

  • sets out basic principles for the protection of underwater cultural heritage;
  • provides a detailed State cooperation system; and 
  • provides widely recognized practical Rules for the treatment and research of underwater cultural heritage.

The Convention consists of a text and an annex which sets out the "Rules for activities directed at underwater cultural heritage".

Main principles

  • Obligation to Preserve Underwater Cultural Heritage - States Parties should preserve underwater cultural heritage and take action accordingly. This does not mean that ratifying States would necessarily have to undertake archaeological excavations; they only have to take measures according to their capabilities. The Convention encourages scientific research and public access.
  • Preservation as first option - The preservation of underwater cultural heritage (i.e. in its original location) should be considered as the first option before allowing or engaging in any activities. The recovery of objects may however be authorized for the purpose of making a significant contribution to the protection of, or knowledge about, underwater cultural heritage.
  • No Commercial Exploitation - The 2001 Convention stipulates that underwater cultural heritage should not be commercially exploited for trade or speculation, and that it should not be irretrievably dispersed. This regulation is in conformity with the moral principles that already apply to cultural heritage on land. It is not to be understood as preventing archaeological research or tourist access.
  • Training and Information Sharing - States Parties shall cooperate and exchange information, promote training in underwater archeology and promote public awareness regarding the value and importance of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The 2001 Convention neither regulates the ownership of wrecks nor does it change maritime zones.

History of the making of the Convention

Back to top