Tourism – between chance and threat

The link between culture and tourism is undeniable. According to recent studies, 37% of global tourism has cultural motivations. Underwater Cultural Heritage sites are an especially appealing cultural attraction, and although many sites are not accessible in situ to the public, a considerable number of them can be made accessible to the average tourist without threatening preservation. Many artefacts of underwater cultural heritage have also been made accessible in land-based museums. Submerged heritage can thus provide long-term opportunities for cultural and recreational tourism, and can contribute significantly to urban development.

Tourism can however also heavily impact sites in a negative way. Coastal promenade construction, water pollution, pillaging and even sand recovery linked to the construction new tourist hotels can threaten sites.

Threat of Leisure Diving

Leisure diving is a chance to enhance heritage awareness, but can also threaten preservation. For example, key dive sites can become congested when dive boats cluster in an area or even anchor on wreck hulls, as observed at shipwreck sites in Malaysia. A study on the Sipadan and Perhentian islands in Malaysia concluded that tourists had a worrying lack of concern for the conservation of the locations they visited. On the same islands, poorly planned resort and tourism developments had also been responsible for damaging coral and obscuring a cultural heritage site. Vessels transporting visitors to sites can also damage hulls, bumping into them. Likewise, souvenir hunting and pillaging can be unfortunate and undesirable consequences of public access, as observed on many of the major Red Sea shipwrecks. Further issues can include sewage disposal problems, especially when hotel toilets empty directly into the sea.

Threat of Beach Treatment

The treatment of touristic beaches and coasts also poses a threat. Many historic shipwrecks have been cleared off beaches, to make them suitable for bathing or kite-surfing. Others have been dredged out of locations where leisure yachting harbors were constructed. The huge construction operations to create coastal promenades have also eradicated Bronze Age harbors, as seen recently in Lebanon, and destroyed numerous historic shipwrecks. In such cases it is more sensible to include the heritage into the planning of the beaches and for instance to create a heritage trail, as already done on the beaches in Normandy, France or in the Florida Keys, USA.

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