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UNESCO and Italy call for protecting ‘Sunken Memories’ at International Conference

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Italy in cooperation with UNESCO organized an International Conference “Sunken Memories – The Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage” on 9 December 2021, marking the 20th anniversary of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. International experts in underwater archaeology took stock of the status and newest developments in the field and discussed mechanisms for underwater cultural heritage protection.

“Today’s event was not merely a ceremonial event to highlight the importance of the 2001 Convention that, since its adoption, holds a fundamental role in the protection of the underwater cultural heritage. For Italy, it stands as an opportunity to discuss the main results achieved in the last twenty years and look to the future of one of the most important fields of research”, said Dario Franceschini, Minister of Culture of Italy in his opening remarks.

Ernesto Ottone, Assistant-Director General for Culture of UNESCO, noted: “The UNESCO 2001 Convention has created real change in the approach of States to their submerged heritage sites, be it in their fight against treasure-hunting or be it in their effort to build capacities. We hope that the Convention will soon become universal.”

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was adopted in 2001 to combat the extensive pillage, commercial exploitation and illicit or unethical traffic of underwater cultural heritage. Currently it has 71 States Parties. Over the past 20 years, UNESCO has trained over 500 experts in underwater archaeology, organized some fifty regional and national policy meetings and supported considerable improvement of national laws.

Italy, which has 29 protected marine areas along its coasts and 2 submerged parks, is a strong supporter of the Convention and recently established a dedicated Superintendency for underwater cultural heritage in line with Article 22 of the Convention, which calls for the establishment of competent authorities.

The Conference reviewed the development of international cooperation in the field of underwater cultural heritage over the past years and called for increased engagement of States in the defense of their submerged heritage. The need for strong political will to engage all stakeholders, including civil society, and the inclusion of heritage in marine spatial planning were particularly underscored, as was the importance of protecting heritage and culture in the work to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 14. 

The event was broadcast on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter through the Italian Ministry of Culture’s channel: