05.06.2018 - Culture Sector

World Oceans Day 2018 - Call to protect Underwater Cultural Heritage and the Human Past of the Oceans


8 June 2018 - Ocean Day marks a vital moment to raise global awareness of the importance of the oceans and the cultural heritage found within. It also gives the opportunity to call for better protection. Ocean scientists, policy makers and the public are encouraged to seize this special occasion in order to reflect on their shared responsibility for protecting the world’s oceans and its most important elements for future generations.

The oceans conceal an estimated three million ancient shipwrecks, hundreds of sunken cities and numerous prehistoric landscapes that are testimony to the development of civilization. The oceans are not only our future, they are also the witness of our past. Caves, ruins, ports and entire submerged landscapes are covered by their waters, painting a picture of past civilizations, safely preserved by the submarine environment. Objects and sites of historical character, including in particular biological materials, are conserved in underwater sites for long time periods and even millennia. This cultural heritage is important due to its historical value, but also for research, ocean literacy, and education. The protection and promotion of this cultural heritage moreover fosters sustainable tourism development. 

Unfortunately, underwater cultural heritage is facing serious threats. Illegal excavation, looting, mal-practice in amateur underwater activities, climate change, industrial works and uncontrolled urban development in coastal areas, all contribute to the endangerment of this important submerged legacy. It is among the goals of SDG 11 and 14 to achieve better protection.

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2001, is intended to help States in this endeavor. The 2001 Convention aims to achieve the legal protection of underwater cultural heritage and promotes the operational protection and research of underwater heritage by enhancing state capacity in these areas, assisting them to create inventories, and increasing the visibility of underwater heritage sites to raise public awareness. States are strongly encouraged to ratify the Convention, and work together with civil society and NGOs to promote the legal protection of submerged cultural heritage.

Many actors come forward on World Oceans Day to call for the protection of the oceans. UNESCO is proud to be part of the coordinated global efforts to achieve this goal. There are countless sites, cultural treasures and historical objects that remain undiscovered. It is important to protect and preserve this underwater cultural heritage. The legacy guarded by our oceans illustrates peoples’ past and history, and is their guide for the future as well as their identity.

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