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Countries of the Atlantic coast mobilize to protect underwater cultural heritage

UNESCO – 06.02.2019

The seabed contains an important amount of underwater cultural heritage, an invaluable source of information on ancient civilizations and the history of maritime navigation. This rich and sunken heritage requires urgent protection. In this regard, UNESCO, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of Senegal, organized the 5th Regional Meeting for Africa on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage from 22 to 24 January 2019 on the island of Gorée. This meeting brought together ten (10) African countries on the Atlantic coast to establish common protection measures based on the strengthening of legal provisions, national capacity building and regional cooperation.


Whether it is the submerged protohistoric sites of the Saloum Delta (Senegal), the anchor cemetery of Cidade Velha (Cabo Verde), or the wreck of the German liner Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, sunk during the First World War in the waters of Dakhla in southern Morocco; all these sites represent an important historical heritage in urgent need of protection. The underwater cultural heritage, often unknown and invisible to most people, is nevertheless an essential testimony to humanity’s past. It is an important cultural asset in terms of education and science, but also opens up a considerable field for the development of sustainable tourism with the blue economy, in favor of communities. However, it is subject to multiple threats such as looting and destruction.

The 5th regional meeting follows a series of meetings already held across the continent and intends to continue efforts to better protect the sunken heritage. For strategic reasons, this meeting mainly targets 10 countries on the Atlantic coast sharing the same issues related to their maritime history and are in a position to develop a common cooperation policy concerning underwater cultural heritage. These are Benin – Cabo Verde – Ivory Coast – Gambia – Guinea Bissau – Guinea – Namibia – Nigeria – Senegal and Togo. Underwater archaeologists, experts and Heritage Directors shared their experiences and consulted each other in order to create synergies in terms of training in partnership with international universities, protection and awareness but also sustainable development through underwater tourism.

Building on the awareness-raising work already undertaken and the recommendations of previous meetings, the meeting aimed to promote a better understanding of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. Only five French-speaking countries and one Portuguese-speaking country in Africa have ratified this essential legal instrument, which sets a high level of protection for this heritage in order to prevent its looting and destruction. It is therefore essential to increase the interest of countries in ratifying it in order to ensure adequate protection.

Source : UNESCO