top of page

Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) Projects


South Africa has been a major player in African maritime archaeology for over a decade. It holds a unique position roughly halfway between Europe and the East, and thus its history is much intertwined with maritime and underwater heritage. The South African maritime resources are vast; including almost 3,000 shipwrecks, landbased maritime sites as well as a myriad of living heritage resources connected to the maritime landscape.


The heritage legislation in South Africa has recognised the importance of protecting maritime culture for many years, and national legislation has included the protection of shipwrecks as early as 1979. 


Maritime Archaeology Development Programme

Status: Ongoing

Duration: 2008-

Partners: South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), Netherlands Consulate General, South African Department of Arts and Culture (DAC). 



This is a programme focused upon the development of capacity in the field of maritime and underwater cultural heritage (MUCH). The focus of the project shifts away from simply concentrating on shipwrecks and settler history in South Africa, taking a much more holistic approach, which includes maritime landscapes. Maritime landscapes are comprised of non-traditional forms of maritime and underwater cultural heritage, relevant to different coastal and inland communities for millennia. 


CIE, in consultation with SAHRA, will facilitate in the development of this MUCH programme, including the training of members of SAHRA's staff and stakeholders. It is hoped that such collaborative involvement will serve to develop cooperative management of shared cultural heritage between the Netherlands and South Africa. 


As South Africa has the intention to ratify the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, this would make it one of the first African states to do so. It is envisioned that combined with this Maritime Archaeology Development Programme, it will help to develop necessary expertise in South Africa to enforce the convention, as well as enhancing its position as a regional leader and heritage stronghold. 


The final set up of the project was presented in April 2009, at the Southern African Development Community Workshop on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in Cape Town, which was organised by UNESCO and the South African Department for Arts and Culture. It was then officially launched by the South Africa Minister for Arts and Culture. 


Outline of the Programme:

It is necessary to have a coastal network of professionals, volunteers and interested members of the public in place, at both technical and theoretical levels. Through this programme staff, volunteers and interested parties will be provided with effective training by experts in various aspects of maritime archaeology, conservation and heritage management. The public awareness aspect of the programme seeks to promote maritime archaeology and scientific principles as a viable alternative to treasure hunting, raising the profile of the discipline as a beneficial national imperative. 


Furthermore one of the primary aims of the programme is to establish a maritime archaeological unit. This unit will be in control of overseeing future MUCH projects, functioning as a resource centre, running educational programmes, undertaking exhibitions and acting as a central location for researchers, academics and volunteers. 


Phase 1: Detailed Needs Awareness:

Determine the current heritage infrastructure, compiling a document outlining the training programme and making cooperative agreements with the relevant organisations, experts, stakeholders and institutes. 


Phase 2: Assessment of Resources: 

Consultation, pilot projects in Cape Town, survey training and on-site surveys based on the Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS) model. 


Phase 3: Training of Potential Heritage Managers

This will include training of the local community as well as heritage professionals, and also working with museums on collection management, conservation and display. 


Aims and Objectives of the Programme:

1. To develop capacity with management organisations, universities, museums and communities

2. To develop a coastal network of professionals, volunteers and members of the public

3. To develop an academic framework for students and heritage practitioners. 

4. To promote maritime archaeology and scientific principles as alternatives to treasure hunting, to raise the profile of the discipline. 

5. To develop a national practical strategy for protection and management of MUCH

6. To establish an underwater cultural heritage unit. 

7. To create a group of trained underwater cultural heritage practitioners. 


Programme Initiation

CIE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SAHRA in 2008. This commits both parties to working together in recognising the importance of maritime heritage for the development of South Africa, and its integral part in South African history. Both partners must work together in developing a sustainable underwater cultural heritage management programme which focuses upon capacity building, public awareness and development of MUCH curricula at all levels from schools to tertiary institutions. 


bottom of page