20.12.2016 - Culture Sector

Ilha do Mozambique - Towards Safeguarding its Underwater Cultural Heritage

© S. Evans

The historical harbour at Mozambique Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Until not long time ago it was an epicentre of ancient marine trade routes linking East Africa with Indian Ocean States, such as ancient Persia, India, Indonesia and China, among others and which was also an important harbour for the slave trade. Mozambique Island’s resulting underwater cultural heritage holds today a high scientific potential and is also of great educational and recreational interest to the local community. It represents an invaluable source of information on ancient exchange and historic seafaring of the Island. It was however ravaged by commercial treasure-hunters, who exported large amounts of recovered artefacts for sale.

The Government of Mozambique endeavors now to identify ways to safeguard the country’s underwater cultural heritage and the already recovered remaining artefacts, build local capacity and raise the awareness of local communities of the value of underwater cultural heritage in collaboration with UNESCO. Tourism and recreation is a very high factor for employment in the  Island. As divers and heritage tourists stay longer and bring more money the Islands submerged heritage sites offer important chances that could and should be used in future.

The international community’s major tool to improve the protection of the underwater cultural heritage is the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which sets reliable scientific standards for all activities directed at underwater cultural heritage and protects these from pillage and treasure-hunt.

Together, the Government of Mozambique, Edouard Mondlane University, and UNESCO organized thus an Ilha do Mozambique National Meeting on the Safeguarding the Underwater Cultural Heritage on the 8 and 9 December 2016. The workshop involved the participation of governmental experts, local stakeholders such as the municipality and museum, and the UNESCO Secretariat of the 2001 Convention. Experts presented on several aspects of underwater cultural heritage on the island, including on the wrecks IDM 002 and 003, intertidal maritime heritage in Mozambique Island, as well as complimentary projects and research. These presentations led to a talk on the way forward for the Island of Mozambique concerning its development potentials, capacity building, and community engagement, which culminated in a roundtable discussion and the adoption of an action plan followed by site visits. The creation of an underwater archaeology center and museum in the Fortress of the Island is under way.

The action plan can be accessed here.

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