Environmental policy (Rule 29)

© G. Adams
Soft Coral on Rio de Janeiro Maru, Chuuk Lagoon, Federated Sates of Micronesia. Seawater is a highly complex environment composed of water, mineral salts, dissolved gases, bacteria, a whole food chain of micro-organisms and macro-organisms, suspended organic matter and sediments. For archaeologists, its aggressive nature lies in the chemical and electrochemical reactions of the various types of seawater with immersed objects, the mechanical actions of waves and sediments, and the effects of biological – especially bacterial – colonization (microscopic and macroscopic living organisms). The factor to consider from the point of view of deterioration is the amount of dissolved oxygen in the environment both during an object’s burial and after its excavation. Amounts can vary from one geographical site to another. On a single site, the quantity of dissolved oxygen decreases with depth, temperature (according to the seasons) and the nature of the sediment (sand, mud or rock). The deeper under water the wreck, the better preserved it will be. In addition, the more deeply buried it is and the denser the silt, the better preserved the state of the artefacts. After a few years, equilibrium is achieved between the surrounding water and the artefacts leading to a relative stabilisation of degradation processes. In terms of restoration time, greater exposure to ambient dissolved oxygen increases the degradation of the artefacts (weakening of artefacts’ structure and development of concretions). This is due to the combined effects of water and erosion by sand carried by the waves. Finally, the greater the depth of salt penetration into the objects, the longer it will take to treat them.

Underwater archaeologists, like others, must comply with the existing regulations of the country in questions on archaeology and protection of the environment. Their operations must also respect the environment in which they operate. To ensure they do so, Rule 10 (l) states that any Project design for an activity directed at underwater cultural heritage, should include an environmental policy. This is reiterated in Rule 29. It does not, however,,give detailed instructions on how to do this. It just recalls the reasons, and specifically refers to ‘the seabed’ and to ‘marine life’, neither of which should be ‘unduly disturbed’. ‘Unduly’ is an important qualifier. It stresses the importance of balancing interests with due consideration given to their relative importance.

Of course, aspects other than the seabed or marine life should also be respected. Rule 29 also applies when work is to be carried out in inland waters, and,  for instance, to birdlife if the project is carried out in a sensitive wetland area.



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Balancing policies


Integration and balancing of different interests is a characteristic trait of environmental policies. Consciousness and awareness of the different aspects are central to their success. Policies that address the protection of marine life or the protection of underwater cultural heritage can be harmonized. This is further confirmed by the observation that it is easier to apply a management programme for an archaeological site in areas that have been declared protected areas, natural sanctuaries, or reef parks, than it is to do so elsewhere. In any case, environmental policies should take the presence of archaeological sites into account and cultural heritage management should integrate environmental policies.

For natural and heritage protection to agree, the issues central to the different objectives need to be understood. It takes different specialists to assess relative significance in the field of monuments and sites, and in the field of nature conservation. It takes different specialists to assess the seriousness of potential impact on cultural and natural heritage. It is only through mutual respect that sensible policies can be developed and sensible decisions can be made.


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