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Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Activities  

The Ocean's Past is our Future – Cultural Heritage and Climate Change  

Round Table discussion in the Ocean Pavillion at COP28 Dubai, UAE:


Date: 5 December 2023

Status: Complete

Partners: UNESCO, Scripps Institute, NYU- Abu Dhabi, Ocean Decade Heritage Network)

Communicating Urgency on the Preservation of Underwater and Coastal Cultural Heritage


Yesterday, the Ocean Pavilion at COP 28 hosted an illuminating Round Table discussion from 11 am to 12 pm, followed by a press conference delving into the crucial intersection of cultural heritage under threat within the framework of climate change negotiations. 


The dialogue highlighted how underwater and coastal cultural heritage offer profound insights into humanity's history and the dramatic consequences and profound impacts due to climate change hazards. Alas, thousands of these invaluable sites in coastal lines, shores and continental platforms face imminent threats putting them at risk of losing integrity or disappearing in the next years. Urgent action is imperative. 


Did you know that a significant portion of human civilization's development unfolded in coastal regions, many of which are now submerged or under threat due to rising sea levels? Astonishingly, the Mediterranean conceals roughly 150 submerged cities, while an estimated 20,000 prehistoric sites lie beneath the waters of North Sea, Baltic, and Channel.


Looking ahead, by 2050, coastal flooding is projected to dramatically increase due to rising sea levels, intensifying storm surges, and shifting tide heights. This poses a severe risk to underwater cultural heritage such as shipwrecks, sunken cities, and ancient sites. Moreover, coastal structures and communities are confronting significant risks and transformations as a result of climate change.


Safeguarding these invaluable cultural resources necessitates a comprehensive approach: anticipating the impacts of climate change, adapting cultural site protection, and implementing conservation strategies to protect vulnerable sites and structures.


The COP roundtable centered on leveraging insights from underwater cultural heritage to understand past environmental conditions and devising ways to shield humanity's treasures from the perils of climate change. This event was a collaborative effort between UNESCO Paris and Cairo, Scripps Institute, NYU Abu Dhabi, the Center for International Heritage Activities (CIE), and the Ocean Decade Heritage Network (ODHN), aligning with COP 28 goals and Sustainable Development Goals 6, 11.4, 13, and 14.


The panel highlighted:


- Nuria Sanz (UNESCO Cairo Office) underscored the impact of climate change on coastal heritage and the pressing need for immediate action. She emphasized the need to include the loss of knowledge and document it as a suitable entry point to support countries in the preparation of the national plans of adaptation. Loss and damages mechanism needs to acknowledge the loss of cultural assets, and to count on heritage based  solutions to face the challenges. 

- Robert Parthesius (NYU Abu Dhabi, CIE) delved into the significance of maritime heritage in understanding climate change and strategies for adaptation.

- Athena Trakadas (Ocean Decade Heritage Network) emphasized the role of underwater heritage in sustainable development and its vulnerability due to climate change.

- Ulrike Guerin (UNESCO) shed light on UNESCO's proactive measures and pilot projects to mitigate the future impacts of climate change.


It's time to unite, comprehend, and preserve our rich cultural heritage in the face of climate change. Together, our actions can make a significant difference! #COP28 #ClimateAction #CulturalHeritage #OceanPavilion #UNESCO






United Arab Emirates, 28 – 31 January 2019

Duration: 2019

Status: Complete

Partners: UNESCO,  ICCROM-Athar, New York University Abu Dhabi Institute (NYUAD) and the UNESCO Accredited NGO Centre for International Heritage Activities (CIE).



In 2001, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage was adopted, setting the internationally recognized standard for the protection and research of underwater cultural heritage (UCH), with a view to preventing it being looted or destroyed. The 2001 Convention contains minimum requirements and standards however each State Party, if it so wishes, may choose to develop even higher standards of protection. This Convention complements and strengthens previous international legal frameworks already protecting cultural heritage found on land and in the territorial waters of Member States (i.e. UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property or the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, among others). The standard of the 2001 Convention is comparable to that granted by other UNESCO Conventions or national legislation on cultural heritage on land, yet is specific to archaeological sites underwater, in international waters or in coastal areas that are partially or temporarily submerged. The heritage found underwater cannot be understood without putting it in a wider context in which land and sea are in constant interaction.


The goal of the 2001 Convention is to ensure the effective protection of underwater cultural heritage and its preservation for future generations. It also aims to enable States to effectively provide such protection. Seventeen years after its adoption, only 11 out of 21 Arab States have ratified the 2001 Convention, while the other 10, all possessing historic coastlines and an extremely rich maritime, coastal and underwater cultural heritage, have not. Moreover, while those 11 Arab States have indeed ratified, they have not yet all adapted and implemented national legislation to align it with the tenets of the Convention, and do not yet all follow the high standards needed to comprehensively protect and research said heritage. The main reason is a lack of technical and professional capacity, and of awareness of the immense importance of protecting underwater cultural heritage. This heritage is a vital part of the identity of all Arab States, reflecting their rich maritime past and cultural importance. However, sites continue to be lost to looting or to industrial activities impacting on the seabed - a challenge that is especially relevant in light of high impact coastal urban development in important areas of the Mediterranean and the Gulf Region. Therefore, the maritime, coastal and underwater cultural heritage is in dire need of legal and operational protection. This can only be effectively achieved through universal ratification of the UNESCO 2001 Convention, adaptation and implementation of national legislation in harmony with the 2001 and other UNESCO Cultural Conventions, the building of research and protection capacity, and the creation of a firm cooperation network.


So what is "Underwater Cultural Heritage"? The UNESCO 2001 Convention defines it as "all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character which have been partially or totally under water, periodically or continuously, for at least 100 years."



The Arab region has, throughout history, been the cross roads of civilizations. Exchange and human development linked to maritime culture have emerged, flourished and converged in the region. The Arab states form the hub of an extensive network held together by the traders and travellers that have originated from- and passed through- the territory, either in the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea or linking the shores of the Mediterranean. Deep connections and shared cultures have been formed out of this network. Today, this expansive maritime past links the Region to Asia, Africa and Europe and is embodied in the cultural landscapes, coastal and submerged archaeological sites, trade links and shared heritage that connects a global network of great importance to many countries and communities.


There is a wealth of underwater archaeological sites, including an estimated 3 million undiscovered shipwrecks spread across the planet’s oceans and countless ancient buildings and relics submerged underwater. Ancient wrecks and sunken city and port structures, such as Sabratha, Libya, Bahrain or the famous light house of Alexandria, Egypt, are particularly abundant in the Arab region. At the same time research into the Gulf region’s prehistoric sunken landscapes is certainly one of the most exciting challenges for underwater archaeology today.


As stated however, this heritage cannot be regarded in isolation from the heritage found on land and along the coasts. It has to be understood and managed in an integral way as part of a maritime cultural landscape. This entire heritage is threatened by a consistent pattern of deliberate vandalism, incidental destruction, climate change and unsustainable coastal development and use of maritime resources - putting this significant part of humanity's heritage in peril.



In light of the significance of this heritage, ICCROM-Athar and UNESCO wish, in collaboration with New York University Abu Dhabi, to stimulate and support the region in further developing Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage programs and management frameworks that are regionally relevant and centered on the rich and important maritime heritage of the Arab Region. The meeting will be built on the outcomes and recommendations of the sub-regional meeting on the 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage held in Bahrain in 2012.

With this purpose, UNESCO and ICCROM-Athar join forces to improve the protection of the submerged cultural heritage found in the region by organizing a Regional Workshop on the Protection and Management of the Maritime, Coastal and Underwater Cultural Heritage in cooperation with New York University Abu Dhabi Institute (NYUAD) and the UNESCO Accredited NGO Centre for International Heritage Activities (CIE).


The Workshop, aimed at professionals and representatives of the competent cultural authorities of the Arab Region States, will be organized in January 2019 and will have as focus the discussion on:


  • Raising awareness of maritime, coastal and underwater cultural heritage

  • Maritime, coastal and underwater cultural heritage management strategies –including the development of specific inventories and protection survey methods, notably in rapidly growing coastal urban areas;

  • Adaptation of national laws to protect submerged heritage;

  • Cooperation mechanisms among national and regional stakeholders in the framework of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage; and

  • Infrastructure development needs.


It is intended that the UNESCO and ICCROM-Athar, together with the NYUAD and the CIE will co-facilitate conference discussions and develop a strategy to establish a Regional Working Group as well as a network of experts.


Prior activities in the Arab region include two UNESCO sub-regional meetings on underwater cultural heritage in Rabat (2006 and 2016), a recent national meeting in Egypt (2018), as well as a UNESCO sub-regional meeting for the Gulf in Bahrain (2012). The Bahrain and Rabat Action Plan are attached to this document.


At the same time, (Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO) organized the 21st Congress of Archaeology & Cultural Heritage in the Arab World, dedicated exclusively to the protection of the underwater cultural heritage of the region in Mahdia, Tunisia, in 2012. This Congress resulted in the adoption of a series of Recommendations


The present meeting shall build on the adopted action plans and recommendations and bring these to the wider attention and consideration of the Ministers of Culture in the Arab region. It will also raise awareness of the importance of culture as a driver and enabler for sustainable development in the region and the need to include culture in coastal urban development plans and in the Gulf’s Marine Spatial Planning policies.



The workshop will be organized at two different venues. ICCROM-Athar Headquarters, in the Emirate of Sharjah, will host the first two days dedicated to presenting Maritime, Coastal and Underwater Cultural Heritage challenges in the region, and debating the current legal frameworks in the Region to protect underwater cultural heritage. Case studies of current technological methods for mitigating threats to underwater cultural heritage will be discussed.

The second part of the workshop will take place on the New York University in Abu Dhabi campus. It will present ways forward to identify, evaluate, protect, preserve and manage the Maritime, Coastal and Underwater Cultural Heritage found in the region, and several cases studies will be presented. Participants will also determine the main issues and infrastructure needs concerning management, protection, research and training for submerged cultural heritage.

The main aims of the workshop are to:

  • Establish a “consortium” or “regional working group” for the management and development of maritime, coastal and underwater cultural heritage in the region composed of relevant stakeholders and experts. States will compete to host various responsibilities;

  • Create awareness and invite buy-in and participation of relevant regional institutes and authorities;

  • Initiate the development of an inventory of capacity and the current status quo and, at the same time, approve a strategy to develop capacities in the Gulf Region;

  • Establish a legislative and policy framework that is relevant to the realities of the region;

  • Increase awareness of the need to include culture in coastal urban development plans, Heritage Impacts Assessment of World Heritage Sites (e.g. Qal’at al-Bahrain – capital of the Dilmun civilization, in Bahrain) and in the Gulf’s Marine Spatial Planning policies;

  • Increase the awareness of policy makers on the need to protect the underwater cultural heritage and to ratify and apply the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage;


The Regional Working Group will support the implementation of pilot activities aimed at capacity and infrastructure development that will, in turn, inform strategies for developing best practice.



Research Report VOC Shipwrecks 

Duration: 2013

Status: Complete

Partners: Western Australia Museum (WAM)



During the 200 years of the Dutch East India Company (1602-1795) 1,850 ships undertook 4,800 journeys between the Netherlands and Asia. 19 of these ships were lost in the Indian Ocean during their outward journeys. In 1963 Hugh Edwards led the first of a series of expeditions to the Southern Abrolhos in Western Australia, during which the location of the Dutch Shipwreck The Batavia was identified. He also discovered an elephant tusk in the same area, supposedly belonging to the cargo of another stranded VOC ship. It was this discovery that prompted the WAM to conduct further research in the region. 


The Project: 

The Dutch ship, The Aagterkerke, went missing in 1726 and was never seen nor heard of again. It was believed that this could have been the mysterious second shipwreck, to which the elephant tusk belonged. In order to test this hypothesis, WAM commissioned CIE to make an assessment of the VOC archives to research and collect any possible evidence on hips lost off the Western Australian Coast. CIE compiled a report based on the findings of our CIE Research Team on the likely presence of a VOC shipwreck at the Houtman Abrolhos. It also contained research and transcripts of VOC documents relating to lost ships leaving from the Cape of Good Hope for Batavia, in addition to research on the socio-economic context of 18th Century VOC activities in Middelburg. 



Footprints as Stepping Stones: Kick-Off Dutch Australian Cultural Heritage Celebrations


Duration: 2012

Status: Complete

Partners: Dutch Embassy in Canberra, National Library of Australia



This Cultural heritage event was organised in advance of upcoming Dutch-Australian cultural heritage celebrations, in particular for the anniversary of the landing of the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog in Western Australia (1616-2016). It was part of a 'heritage week', aiming to refine the recommendations that resulted from the Heritage Days. Over 65 participants attended during the day and more than 100 at the evening symposium and public event. The whole celebration was organised by the Dutch Embassy in Canberra and CIE at the National Library of Australia. 



The evening symposium comprised of dynamic workshops and a roundtable event. Invited participants included representatives of the so-called GLAMS (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), cultural heritage experts, government representatives and companies. In the evening the general public were also invited to attend a Keynote speech by Dr. Peter van Onselen, who is an author and academic at the University of Western Australia and political commentator for The Australian and Sky News. He is of Dutch descent and talked about the unique ties between Australia and the Netherlands from an Australian perspective, drawing upon his own personal experiences. This lecture was followed by a reception hosted by the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Australia, Her Excellency Mrs. Annemieke Ruigrok. 


During these activities the attendees focused upon identifying involved experts and organisations, to make the different projects and activities that took place in the field of Dutch-Australian heritage visible. Primary themes within heritage cooperation were identified- the four M's- Maritime, Mercantile, Migration and Military Heritage relations. The historical ties and activities form footprints in the relations between the two countries, these footprints are stepping stones for future mutual heritage cooperation. This event aimed to look ahead and discuss ways to create 'joint ownership' in the 2016 cultural heritage celebrations. The aim is to involve symposium participants in the creation of a roadmap towards Dutch-Australian cultural heritage celebrations in 2016. 


The first workshop gave an overview of activities organised by the cultural field in regards to Dutch-Australian cultural heritage and projects which are scheduled to take place leading up to 2016 and during this celebratory year itself. The workshop began with a presentation from Mr. Rupert Gerritsen and Mr. Peter Renders from 'Australia on the Map', reflecting on the Dutch-Australian celebrations in 2006. Mr. Roelof Hol from the National Archives in The Hague then presented the Dutch Common Cultural Heritage Policy in relation to the roadmap towards 2016 celebrations. He informed guests about the official Dutch policy towards common cultural heritage and how this affects Australia once they became a priority country from 1st January 2013. 



Programme booklet

Promotional posters



ANCODS Collection


Duration: 2006-2011

Status: Complete

Partners: Netherlands Embassy in Canberra, Australian National Maritime Museum, Western Australian Museum, Geldmuseum in Utrecht, RIjksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE), The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. 



During the 17th and 18th Centuries seafaring was a dangerous business. Many ships and men were lost at sea due to rough seas and bad weather. In the 1950s and 1960s four VOC wrecks were discovered and excavated near to the Western Australian coast; The Batavia (1629), Vergulde Draeck (1656), Zuytdorp (1712) and the Zeewijk (1729). The Australian-Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks (ANCODS) was founded to take responsibility for the resulting archaeological collections from these wrecks. Over the years this collection has been scattered between different museums throughout both countries. 


In 2006 the Dutch Ministry for Education, Culture and Science disposed the repatriation of the Dutch ANCODS artefacts to Australia. The Dutch part of the collection was previously housed in the Scheepvaart Museum (Amsterdam Maritime Museum) and the Geld Museum (Money Museum), following this CIE was made keeper of this collection. 


CIE's Role

In August 2009 two meetings were organised to discuss further cooperation between the two countries. One of the meetings also cooincided with the 12th ANCODS meeting held in the Shipwreck Gallery in Frementle. The first Data Coordination Workshop- Dutch Relic Return- was also held. This event was an informal workshop, organised to share information and develop further collaboration with the Australian counterparts, in order to develop a high quality database. The involved organisations also explored opportunities to establish a Netherlands-Australian online ANCODS database to include other parts of the collection. With the decision to repatriate the collection to Australia, CIE set up the ANCODS Online Database, to become an online repository of information. A web portal that allows the best possible access to information and the objects for international visitors, especially as the collection is no longer present in the Netherlands.


Phase 1: December 2008-February 2010- creating a digital inventory and description of the objects which were set to return to Australia. These were then made accessible online accompanied by information and explanations, thereby providing full digital access. As the Australian National Maritime Museum is now the keeper of the collection, the ANCODS database was handed over to them in 2011 to enable them to care for its continued development and management. CIE coordinated the actual organization of the repatriation and in advance of the event, created a small exhibition at the Nieuwland Erfgoed Centrum in Lelystad, to give the Dutch people a final chance to see the physical objects themselves before they left the country. Upon the event of this exhibition opening, the mutual declaration was signed between the two countries. The Australian National Maritime Museum now act as the custodians and repository for the ANCODS collection. 


In November 2010 the objects were transferred to Australia. To commemorate the repatriation and official handover event was organised in Sydney on 9th November 2010, shortly following this the object were fianlly transferred to the Western Australian Museum in Frementle. See their ANCODS page. Also in 2010 a concept was developed and written for a travelling exhibition in 2016. This exhibition will be realised in cooperation with the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Australia



ANCODS information booklet

ANCODS news article

Zeewijk promo information

Lecture invitation at ANCODS launch




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