Tourism and the valorisation of underwater cultural heritage

Raising awareness for the importance of underwater cultural heritage - underwater cultural heritage, crashed hard disks and unreadable memory sticks

Marnix Pieters, Flanders Heritage Agency, Belgium (Chair)


‘What did you find and what’s the (monetary) value of the objects you have found?’ are two of the most frequently heard questions people ask when they happen to interview an archaeologist.
Archaeology is, as we all know, much more than finding objects but unfortunately that's the idea non-archaeologists have about archaeology. Through this viewpoint and approach, archaeologists are in fact reduced to a role that can best be described as taking care of (previously) lost objects. In medieval Europe we had a holy man for that, named Antony of Padua.
I believe that this approach to archaeology, by the majority of the public at large, is in a way a major factor denying to archaeology and to underwater cultural heritage more specific an important role in our present-day society.
I think we urgently need to talk about archaeology in terms of ‘archives of the soil’ or in maritime contexts about ‘archives of the seas’ to stress the fact that these objects we take care off are in fact nothing else other than documents containing a lot of evidence and information about former societies. In a way, the objects can be compared to crashed hard disks or partly unreadable memory sticks. The evidence present in the material archival record is indeed mostly written in a language we don’t fully understand yet, implying that we still have to learn a lot about this language. A better communication to the public at large about what’s really at stake in relation to underwater cultural heritage, can contribute substantially to the valorisation of underwater cultural heritage through raising awareness and increasing public support.

The Impact on and opportunities arising from tourism to submerged sites

James Delgado, NOAA/INA, USA

(Text | Presentation)

Nicolas Flemming
, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK


James Delgado, NOAA, USA

Access to the underwater cultural heritage by tourists poses both a potential threat and also an opportunity for archaeologists to present heritage and archaeological work for better appreciation and understanding. The concept of in-situ preservation raises the need to consider UCH as a “museum IN the sea” as much as a submerged “museum OF the sea” compels us to examine strategies for appropriate tourist access to the UCH. This presentation examines the approach to shipwrecks undertaken by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service, and concludes with comments on appropriate tourist access to sites such as the Titanic.

Nicolas Flemming, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, UK

Submerged human occupation sites, historical buildings, classical Roman and Greek structures on the Mediterranean coast aged around 2500-1900 years old, and prehistoric settlements or caves dating from 4000 to 1 million years old can sometimes survive in coastal waters and on the seafloor out to a maximum depth of about 150m. The distribution is potentially global, though the variation in regional cultures and constructional styles results in variable rates of survival and preservation under the sea.
Commercial tourism is prevalent and has the greatest impact in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Caribbean, since these regions combine a rich coastal history and intensive modern tourism. The same fraught combination applies to the coast of Japan, and as the standard of living increases to many other parts of Asia and South America. The impact arises from the construction of yacht marinas, coastal building of hotels, water sports resorts, touristic scuba diving, and the collection and sale of souvenirs. Examples of threatened sites will be given.
There are very few examples of submerged occupation sites which have been studied, protected, and then managed for controlled tourism. Caesarea in Israel is a clear example, and tourist boat organisers and recreational divers are well aware of the submerged Lycian cities on the SW coast of Turkey. The submerged towns near Alexandria have also been considered for touristic exploitation.

Opportunities arising for national economies from the valorisation of underwater cultural heritage

Jordi Tresseras
, University of Barcelona, Spain

Lluís Abejez, University of Barcelona, Spain

Pere Izquierdo i Tugas, Cultural Heritage Office, Barcelona Council, Cataluña, Spain


Underwater archaeological sites preserved in situ could create important specialized clusters associated with conservation, research and specialised training programs, education, interpretation and museology as well as sustainable tourism (with special attention to the diving tourism niche) involving local community. Common actions with sites included in other heritage networking strategies will also be considered in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites, the UNESCO Routes of Intercultural Dialogue or the European Cultural Routes, promoted by the Council of Europe and the European Commission through a partial agreement.
We analyse strategies and some case-studies in order to have a preliminary approach to a competitive cultural and creative clusters using the mechanisms of the UNESCO Underwater Cultural Heritage Convention associated to the tourism destination brand, promoting creativity and empowering stakeholders. The entire local tourism supply chain and sustainable development from a cultural, economic, social and environmental perspective will be also evaluated.

The valorisation and the presentation of underwater archaeological heritage-The Vasa Museum

Andreas Olsson, Swedish National Maritime Museum, Sweden



This paper aims to present the Vasa shipwreck and the Vasa museum in Stockholm. The Vasa museum is one of the most visited maritime museums in the world. How can we understand the success of the museum and the fascination of its content? How does this fascination relate to all other well-preserved Baltic Sea shipwrecks still in situ?
The success story of the Vasa museum gives us inspiration, but also challenges us. Since the salvage of the Vasa in the late 1950s, many shipwrecks have been salvaged around the world. Very few have become world famous tourist attractions. Despite high scientific values and strong narratives, most salvaged shipwrecks end up in museum collections, inaccessible to the public.
In an ordinary well preserved Baltic Sea shipwreck, the structure of the ship is more or less undamaged and the objects are still in place as they were when the ship was founded. In a comparison between a well-preserved Baltic Sea shipwreck and the Vasa, the Vasa actually almost seem arranged and reconstructed.
This paper will argue that we need to take on the challenge of using the same fascination that attracts millions of people to the Vasa museum, to create a public understanding for the ambition to preserve shipwrecks in situ.

The Nordic experience - access through maritime dive trails and virtual simulation

Sallamaria Tikkanen, Maritime Museum, Finalnd


This presentation introduces two projects using different methods to make underwater cultural heritage sites more accessible in the Nordic and in the Baltic Sea Region. The first case describes an international project called Nordic Blue Parks. The second project is called Vrouw Maria Underwater Project.
The Nordic Blue Parks Project was an innovating one year pilot project creating a new concept combining – for the first time – natural and cultural heritage and recreation at underwater trail and park sites. It aimed to formulate criteria and guidelines for sustainable trails and to set up new trails and to improve old ones. During the project, three new underwater parks were opened and two old ones were improved.
Vrouw Maria Underwater Project aims to make this Dutch shipwreck - sunk in 1771 off the coast of Finland - more accessible through a blog site, a virtual simulation and an exhibition. The interactive, real-time, virtual reality simulation gives visitors a feeling of being there at the actual site and a possibility to experience the wreck, the underwater landscape and the sounds cape. This is especially important for a site located in an area where sport diving is prohibited. The exhibition also introduces ideas and feelings of those few divers who have visited the site, bringing alive the idea that a heritage is a combination of the site and the people who uses it.

A proposal of underwater archaeological parks in the ancient submerged sites of Leptis Magna and Apollonia (Libya)


Carlo Beltrame &
 Claudia Pizzinato, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia

In 2008 and 2009, the Archeotema society (Venice-Italy) was in charge from the Libyan Governement to draw some projects for the managing of the underwater archaeological sites of Libya as places for underwater tourism. The project was inside a general work of Evaluation and Conservation of the Cultural Libyan Heritage.

After two expeditions in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, selected the sites were Leptis Magna in Apollonia. In Leptis submerged piers lie off the Roman harbour while in Apollonia, Greek shipsheds, a military harbour, various kinds of structures, a piscina and a pair of Roman wrecks are present. This last one is one of the most impressive submerged sites of the world.
Tolmetha has been selected for research activities and the training of archaeologists.

Two different kinds of approach were proposed based on the different kind of place and structure. In one case, Leptis Magna, we proposed a glass bottom boat and some different itineraries because the place is spread in different points of interests.
In the other case, Apollonia, the nature of place lets us imagine a real park with an itinerary for divers and even in this case, a glass bottom boat for people who just want to see from the surface without jumping in the water.
Conceptually, an underwater archaeological park is supposed to be extremely useful not only in the protection and enhancement of the archaeological heritage, as the Unesco convention on the protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage would ask, but also in the generation of new employment in towns and cities located close to the area.
In addition, there is the potential in such areas, for setting up research projects on the field of maritime archaeology, marine biology and conservation and thereby creating new professional opportunities for graduates in these subjects.

The organization structure of the underwater archaeological parks will be composed basically by:
- a diving centre;
- a ship with flat transparent bottom or simple zodiacs;
- the submerged area for both surface and underwater tours;
- a didactic centre.