03.06.2016 - Culture Sector

Rabat Meeting Highlights Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and Development

Shipwreck Papua-New Guinea © UNESCO/A. Vanzo

A regional meeting organized in Rabat (Morocco) from 2-3 June 2016 by UNESCO and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco brought together experts in underwater cultural heritage to discuss challenges of underwater archaeological research, the protection of sites, as well as linkages to sustainable development.

Mohamed Amine Sbihi, Minister of Culture of Morocco, opened the meeting by highlighting that Morocco had ratified the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and that this heritage was of “the highest importance” for the country and the region.  He announced the opening of a new center to focus on underwater heritage and implementation of the Convention, and he joined the Minister of Defense in signing a cooperation agreement that will improve the safety of underwater heritage sites. Mohamed Mustafa Al-Maguib of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, stated that Egypt hoped “to be able to establish an underwater cultural heritage museum in Alexandria.” 

Along these lines, participants from Denmark, Egypt, France, Lebanon, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey then shared research and best practices in protecting this unique heritage and stressed the importance of the 2001 Convention.  Particularly in the Mediterranean Sea, looting or damage by divers and treasure-hunters who are increasingly accessing sites, pollution, industrial trolling of the sea bed, and the lack of trained experts and underwater archaeologists were identified among the challenges faced. 

The role of underwater cultural heritage in contributing to local and national economic and social development was also highlighted. Ouafa Ben Slimane, representative of Tunisia and member of UNESCO’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Body, underlined the importance of singling out Best Practices in Access to sites, and announced the establishment of diving itineraries in Tunisia.  Other practical measures include regional cooperation, improving laws and licensing, training and public education campaigns.  Ulrike Guerin of UNESCO stated “it is crucial to make law enforcement authorities aware of the looting of underwater heritage sites and to include this issue urgently into their task list alongside the pursuit of smugglers.”

Xavier Nieto from the University of Cadiz, Spain emphasized the value of cooperation and exchange. Representatives of several universities belonging in the Unesco/Unitwin network presented programs for safeguarding underwater archaeology in the Mediterranean.  The participants concluded the meeting by adopting a Recommendation on priorities and actions to be taken for the region.

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