2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage
UNESCO, Culture Sector
7, place de Fontenoy
F-75352 Paris 07 SP
Tel.: +33 (0) 14 56 84406
The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was adopted in 2001 in order to combat the extensive pillage, commercial exploitation and illicit or unethical traffic of underwater cultural heritage. It is a comprehensive treaty, which fully addresses these issues regarding all waters. It increases the legal protection of sites in situ and prohibits the illicit and/or unethical recovery and traffic of artefacts. The Convention is thus very relevant at a time when the pillage and commercial exploitation of underwater cultural heritage as well as the industrialization of the seabed constitute major issues that have not yet found an appropriate solution in most regions of the world.
The Convention, however, goes further than that. It also responds to the need for scientific guidance and the facilitation of State cooperation. Underwater archaeology is still a developing discipline. 71 % of the earth is covered by oceans and the majority of the global seabed has not yet been researched for heritage. Research capacities are still lacking and awareness of the immense patrimony lying on the ocean beds, rivers and lakes is very low. Only through exchange of knowledge and training can this situation be improved and bring the important underwater cultural heritage to benefit the public.
Last but certainly not least, the Convention addresses the needs to mitigate the impact of industrial seabed activities, such as trawling, dredging, mineral extraction and so on, with the protection of submerged archaeological sites. These impacts are considerable, but with wise planning and collaboration, not only excellent results for heritage protection and the development of underwater archaeology can be achieved, but also the enterprises concerned can benefit in terms of corporate responsibility and public image.
By character the 2001 Convention has been drafted exclusively as a heritage protection treaty. It provides a blanket protection to all traces of human existence of a cultural, historical or archaeological character, which have been partially or totally under water, periodically or continuously, for at least 100 years. It does not address the ownership of heritage nor does it change maritime zones or jurisdiction.
The Convention's Secretariat is ensured by UNESCO.