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Background

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It is estimated that 3 million underwater archaeological sites (shipwrecks, sunken cities and marine infrastructures) have been undiscovered so far. Modern technology which spawned the mass production of scuba diving equipment, remotely operated subterranean vehicles, manned submersibles and special retrieval equipments, has rendered underwater archaeological sites vulnerable to pillaging by treasure‐hunters and other commercial exploitation, and unwitting damage and negligence of those using the water for other purposes, such as fishing, exploitation of sea‐bed resources and major shoreline and off‐shore constructions.

The threats of treasure hunting and exploitation of marine resources were the reasons why UNESCO engaged to take legal and practical action to assure better protection for the underwater archaeological sites, which led to the adoption of a the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO’s General Assembly in 2001. More importantly, every Member State agreed that the Annex to the Convention, which sets out very specific rules concerning activities directed at underwater cultural heritage, should be accepted and applied as the reference document for interventions directed at underwater cultural heritage.

Professional capacity‐building has been identified as the key to successfully safeguard the underwater cultural heritage. Without a concerted and sustained effort to build the region’s capacity to manage it, it is not possible for underwater cultural heritage to be protected in the long term.

While cultural heritage on land has increasingly benefitted from national and international safeguarding measures, underwater cultural heritage still lacks sufficient legal protection. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2001, intends to enable States to better protect this heritage.

 

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