Sharing as a principle (Rule 7)

© T. Maarleveld
A class of schoolchildren listening to archaeologist Jens Auer, Perow, Germany. Archaeologist Jens Auer explains to a class of schoolchildren in Prerow (Germany) what a strange piece of wreckage was found on their beach, and what a group of archaeologists and archaeology students are doing to document it. The wreckage is a ship’s side dating fromthe 18th century. It was clinker-built at first, but rebuilt with an espescial layer of flush planking.


Rule 7 and Rule 8 postulate sharing as a general principle. Exclusiveness in matters relating to cultural heritage is just not acceptable in the present time, even if perhaps at one time in history it was. Heritage is protected for its general and public interest, and not in order to please its discoverer, its owner or one exclusive stakeholder. The consequences of this principle are far-reaching, implying that rulings that attend to maritime salvage are not appropriate for shipwrecks to which the 2001 Convention applies. Salvage rulings deal with private interests exclusively, resulting in secrecy and exclusive access to information. This stands in contrast to the principle of sharing and public interest that dominates heritage protection and management. Thereby private interests are not necessarily curtailed, but they are made subsidiary to the significance of the heritage in question.

The 2001 Convention does not interfere with private property rights. The Rules that govern activities directed at underwater cultural heritage do, however, imply that any activities directed at underwater cultural heritage are subject to careful consideration and authorization by competent authorities. Moreover, these activities should be undertaken for the public benefit, in pursuance of a significant contribution to protection, to knowledge and enhancement. Benefits accruing from activities should be shared, as should be the heritage.

The principle of sharing assumed a fundamental importance in regulating the protection of underwater cultural heritage from the beginning. The 2001 Convention, including the Rules of its Annex was elaborated in the belief that “cooperation among States, international organizations, scientific institutions, professional organizations, archaeologists, divers, other interested parties and the public at large is essential for the protection of underwater cultural heritage” (Preamble). The principle of sharing is made operational through the directives on public access (Rule 7) and international cooperation (Rule 8).


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Guiding considerations for public access


Guiding considerations for the permission of public access can include the following:

  1. Distinguish between access and intrusion;
  2. Ban unauthorized intrusion;
  3. Visitors (divers) can act responsibly, encourage them to do so;
  4. Consider:
    1. Not limiting access, but channelling it;
    2. the development of heritage trails;
    3. allowing access under guidance of a ‘custodian’;
    4. involving the leisure diving industry in protection and management;
    5. making access conditional on responsible behaviour.
  5. Limit access limitations to what is absolutely necessary
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Public access


Heritage is protected for its public interest and its unique value for humanity. It should be enjoyed by as many people as possible. For this reason, Rule 7 stresses that “public access to in situ underwater cultural heritage shall be promoted”. However, heritage is also an economic asset, adding to the quality of a region and its environment if it is known and accessible. In fact, there are many reasons for promoting public access and enjoyment.

It is preferable to allow for public access because:

  •  Heritage has a unique value for humanity;
  • Access contributes to appreciation and awareness;
  • Indirectly, access contributes to:
    • Better understanding and knowledge,
    • Better protection.
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Fundamental dilemmas


Nevertheless, public access to archaeological sites poses some dilemmas. This is particularly true for vulnerable or fragile sites, including those that have never been disturbed, and sites that are subject to careful but non-continuous investigation. The much debated dilemma arises on whether these sites should be the exclusive domain of archaeological researchers.

Archaeological research is an important reason for the protection of archaeological sites. Nonetheless, restricting access to archaeologists only is not  well-advised. The validity of protective policies depends on the extent to which the heritage can be experienced by the public and therefore on access. Restricting admission results in a lack of growth in public awareness, appreciation and knowledge. This is contrary to the objective of research, which is the creation of understanding and knowledge. Allowing access and permitting authentic experiences makes protection valuable, less exclusive and better understood. Access, in other words, is not only an important aim in itself; it also contributes to awareness and to joint support for protective approaches. This is as true for underwater cultural heritage as it is true for heritage sites on land.

There are, however, reasons for restricting public access. Heritage is fragile. Moreover, it is susceptible to natural decay and erosion, but it may also be damaged through abuse, looting and unrestricted access. Restricting access and protective measures, often including a protective cover, may be necessary to ensure its continued existence.

Pending such measures or while awaiting research, it may be useful to temporarily restrict access to the site. During the course of archaeological work, strict control and supervision may be preferable to unlimited access. Once adequate measures for protection have been taken there is no further reason to restrict access permanently. To cater for these necessary measures is a challenging assignment for management. 

To resolve the dilemma of access, it is useful to compare underwater cultural heritage with heritage sites on land, but this should be on the basis of a correct analogy. On land, different regimes apply to visible parts of heritage, such as erected monuments and buildings on the one hand, and to buried deposits of archaeological remains on the other. To the former access is usually permitted, for the latter access is hardly an issue. Protection prevails since intrusion and excavation are subject to authorization.

Underwater heritage is not visible in everyday life. It would therefore be easy to deny access by a comparison with invisible heritage on land. However, diving is not excavating, and access and intrusion are not the same. Underwater cultural heritage may not be visible in everyday life, but it nevertheless includes both exposed and buried remains. Some sites can hardly be experienced or accessed other than through specialist scientific excavation, but for others this is different. So, like on land, there are sites for which access is not problematic and sites for which it is.

Public access calls for the resolving of dilemmas because:

  •  Heritage is fragile;
  • Access may not be compatible with protection; and
  • Access may not be compatible with management.

In resolving these dilemmas:

  • Think of limitations as temporary;
  • Avoid solutions of convenience;
  • Develop guidance and strategies; and
  • Make the best of heritage assets.
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Economy, tourism and leisure diving


It has been said that the past is a foreign country and the same can be argued for the underwater world that captivates and enthralls. Experiencing the past under water is rapidly becoming an enormous asset in the leisure industry and the ‘experience economy’.

This development has risks and opportunities for protection. Travellers have the tendency to take souvenirs back home. Time-travellers in the underwater world are no exception. Many divers have in fact been reported with thoughtlessly removed souvenirs in hand. Occasionally, operators of diving schools and diving centres recommend visits to attractive souvenir-hunting locations. The self-defeating nature of such an approach is evident. If every diver takes a bit, a site will quickly be depleted. Protection and continued status quo is in an operator’s long-term business interest. The leisure diving industry stands to profit enormously from protection, on the condition, of course, that it is combined with access. Accordingly, organizations of divers and diving instructors support sustainable approaches.

Access can be provided directly or through intermediary techniques. Diving allows for direct presence and experience on site, without necessarily being intrusive. Diving visitors can act responsibly and should be encouraged to do so. Moreover, simple preventive measures can be taken. Transparent fences enable first-hand experience, preventing intrusion without preventing access and enjoyment, when they are cleaned regularly. A site can be made accessible through closed circuit television, webcams, Remotely Operated Vehicles, 3-dimensional reproductions or other means of visualisation. Such techniques allow for indirect access and have a long history. Some such solutions are maintenance intensive, certainly, but not necessarily expensive. Indirect access has the added advantage of engaging the non-diving part of the public, a (very large) group that should not be forgotten.

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Compatibility with protection and management


Not every site is equally suitable for public access. Rule 7 provides for an exception to the general rule. The exception is very broadly formulated: “except where such access is incompatible with protection and management”. Such exception should not become the rule. Admission should not be denied for the wrong reasons or for bureaucratic convenience. Limitations on access should be an exception, decided upon after due consideration. The specific reasons for such a decision must be made transparent for public benefit.

With some form of supervision and control, access is hardly ever incompatible with protection. Divers do not change the environment and need not touch and abrade. The challenge is therefore for management. Organizing an appropriate level of supervision and control is what matters. If that is in place, access is not incompatible with management either.

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Involving diving operators


Providing leisure diving operators with a measure of responsibility and custodianship is an attractive option to solve the issue of supervision and control. Promoting preferential access may help to channel it without compromising site protection. To cope with the demand and encourage economic development, many countries have had positive experiences with devising heritage trails; providing information, guidance and monitoring at low cost, and actively contributing to awareness as well as providing unique experiences for tourists and leisure divers. Guidance leaflets on waterproof paper may be part of the endeavour.

Not every site is suitable for such an approach. As an alternative, traditional publications and media may be supplemented with more and more virtual techniques, simulating experience or allowing for visualisation at a distance, through internet or other means. However, allowing for access and the authentic experience is what makes protection more valuable, less exclusive and better understood. It contributes to awareness and to joint support for protective approaches.

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