Last month, Slovenia became the 20th state party to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. Accordingly, the Convention will go into effect in January 2009. Parties to the convention pledge to preserve underwater cultural heritage and protect it from commercial exploitation.
Further, the Convention shows preference for in situ preservation of underwater cultural remains. The premise is that the lack of oxygen generates a low deterioration rate. But in situ preservation presents its own challenges.
“If a site is above ground and in a country’s territory, then you can put a policeman next to it and stand guard,” said Ulrike Koschtial, a UNESCO officer. “But that is not the case with sites of underwater cultural heritage.”
UNESCO suggests metal cages as an alternate means of protection for underwater sites, and sonar buoys that will photograph potential intruders and transmit alerts.
These are fairly high-tech items, which brings up the question of where the funds for such efforts will originate. I have inquired with UNESCO as to this and am awaiting an inquiry. I will certainly report back.
In the meanwhile, for more information, read “Treaty to protect underwater heritage” on The National. It includes a good discussion of which sites should be protected under the Convention.
Visit Safeguarding the Underwater Cultural Heritage page on UNESCO.org.