Public Access to Underwater Cultural Heritage

The oceans are the world’s biggest museum. They contain countless cultural treasures ranging from shipwrecks to sunken cities and prehistoric sites gradually submerged by global sea-level rises. These archaeological sites serve as time capsules. They allow us a brief glimpse into the daily life of the past – life as it was before the site disappeared beneath the waves.
It is important to make this human legacy accessible to as many people as possible.

Public access to underwater cultural heritage:

  • provides communities with a tangible connection to their past, fosters local pride and stimulates people's awareness and respect for underwater heritage.
  • can be a crucial economic asset to the local tourism industry.
  • ensures the monitoring of sites' state or preservation and can help finance protection and research.

In the interest of encouraging responsible public access to underwater cultural heritage the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body of the 2001 Convention has recommended to the Meeting of States Parties to promote Best Practice examples from all over the world. These initiatives could include maritime heritage museums, dive trails and virtual exhibits etc.

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MUSEUMS

Some countries with rich underwater heritage have decided to recover artifacts or whole wrecks and exhibit them in museums, which are now lasting cultural attractions for their regions. The museums provide the public at large with easy access to their underwater heritage and thereby stimulate awareness, education and research

IN SITU ACCESS

Once out of the water and exhibited on land, objects from submerged archaeological sites are deprived of their context and lose part of their significance. Therefore, several recent initiatives have been undertaken to offer visitors in situ experiences. These include dive trails and tours on glass-bottom boats or submersible for non-divers

CULTURE & DEVELOPMENT

Public access to underwater cultural heritage provides visitors with a tangible connection to their past, it stimulates local awareness and pride, and it holds vast potential for education and recreation. While the commercial selling of underwater cultural heritage may provide short-term economic returns, it does not go hand in hand with public access, and in the long-term it has been shown to be less profitable than sustainable heritage management strategies.

REPLICAS

Completed in 2008, the Min of the Desert is a replica of an Egyptian seafaring ship that sailed the Red Sea to Punt 3,800 years ago under Queen Hatshepsut. Precise replicas can bring archaelogical artefacts back to life and thus very directly promote understanding among the general public.

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