This week ACHA members are in Paris at the invitation of UNESCO for the 5th meeting of the members of Scientific and Technical Advisory Body (STAB) of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (the Convention). According to Article 4 (paragraph a) of its Statutes, the STAB must meet at least once every year to deliberate on aspects of the implementation of Convention that are important to States that have ratified. At this meeting, the STAB will draft resolutions for promoting public access to underwater cultural heritage sites, developing education and awareness raising programmes and cooperating with UNESCO accredited NGO’s around the world.
Public access to heritage sites is an important component for protection and management. If we want people to engage with their heritage we need them to be able to visit and interact with it. Although its would be easy to open up a heritage site for visitors, sustainable visitor management plans must be drafted and implemented so that tourism doesn’t destroy or damage the sites. The STAB will discuss ways for tourism and heritage to work together so that heritage sites contribute to the economy but are protected for the enjoyment of generations to come.
Responsible public access is closely linked to education and awareness raising programmes. Heritage sites on land are easy visit. Some maritime sites like harbours, or fish traps are also visible, but sites underwater are usually only accessible to divers. This often means that the people who live near the sites have never seen them and don’t know much about them. While laws might protect heritage, it is important that people who live near the sites assist with managing them. ACHA believes that through education and awareness raising, communities living near submerged sites connect underwater cultural heritage and terrestrial heritage to form a more inclusive heritage where sites, stories, traditions and environments make up a maritime cultural landscape that is part of the identity of the people who live in it. If people are connected to their heritage they will help protect it thereby assisting government agencies in their duties. Protecting heritage and sharing stories and histories can also contribute to creating heritage trails and museums that will stimulate tourism and economic development.
UNESCO and the States Parties to the Convention have accredited ten NGO’s worldwide who will work together with the countries who have ratified the Convention to implement training, capacity building and education programmes, awareness raising projects and management initiatives. The NGO’s provide a network of experts who can assist wherever needed. ACHA has two strong connections with the accredited NGO’s. Firstly, we have partnered with CIE – Centre for International Heritage Activities on several projects in Africa including in Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa. ACHA is also a training provider for the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS), whose courses are taught worldwide.
Although ACHA is not yet accredited with UNESCO, it will support the efforts of CIE at the meeting. ACHA is the only African NGO working in Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) that will be attending the meetings and, as such, will stand for African interests and promote the development of MUCH in Africa.