Stakeholders reiterate importance of protecting Underwater Cultural Heritage in Africa

Participants who attended the two day meeting on the implementation of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage held from 10 – 11 March 2021 in Namibia reiterated the importance of protecting underwater cultural heritage in Africa. The meeting increased awareness about the 2001 Convention and improved collaboration at national and regional level to ensure strengthened protection of underwater cultural heritage in Africa. It contributed to UNESCO’s continued efforts to improve Member States’ capacities in protecting their submerged heritage, such as shipwrecks and sunken structures.

Over 100 stakeholders including regional and international experts on underwater cultural heritage attended the meeting (either physically or virtually) and emphasised the urgency of protecting underwater cultural heritage in the Africa region. Speakers included representatives of national authorities, leading archaeologists, senior cultural heritage experts, historians and conservators from the African region. Notably, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Coordinator in Africa, Mr. Mika Odido moderated a roundtable discussion on international cooperation opportunities in underwater archaeology and the UN Ocean Science Decade.

In his remarks, Mr Lazzare Eloundou, Director of Culture and Emergencies and Secretary to the 2001 Convention encouraged more African States to ratify and implement the 2001 Convention where only 11 (eleven) countries have successfully ratified. He further explained some of the threats being faced by underwater cultural heritage and called for collaboration.

Officiating at the meeting, Hon Faustina Caley, Deputy Minister of Education, Arts and Culture in Namibia applauded UNESCO for its continuous commitment towards the protection of the underwater cultural heritage. She emphasised the importance of more research in the area of underwater cultural heritage, digitalising museums, enhancing tourism and capacity building.

The meeting addressed various issues including: implementation of the 2001 Convention, inventorying of sites, as well as cooperation at regional and national levels, in line with the objectives of the 2001 Convention and with SDG 14, which aim to integrate the ocean history and underwater cultural heritage into global efforts for conservation and sustainable use of the ocean.

This regional meeting was organised as part of the 21st anniversary of the 2001 Convention. The Convention was adopted on 2 November 2001 to protect “all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character” which have been underwater for over 100 years.

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