Underwater cultural heritage

Unique value – common responsibility

The Baltic Sea is a very special environment with a unique underwater cultural heritage. In the declaration of the 15th Ministerial Session of the Council of the Baltic Sea States on 4th of June 2009, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs noted that safeguarding the uniqueness and variety of the underwater heritage of the Baltic Sea is a regional concern.

If underwater heritage is located in territorial waters it is mostly protected by national laws. But some 40 percent of the Baltic Sea is divided into Exclusive Economic Zones in which no effective heritage legislation can be applied.

The regional Working group on Underwater Cultural Heritage, composed of decision-makers, scientists and cultural managers,  discusses current problems of protection, education, exploration and management of underwater heritage such as wrecks, the sunken parts of harbours and settlements from the Stone Age to modern times. Members of the group are delegates from official government departments in charge of cultural heritage of the Baltic Sea States. In the framework of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Baltic Sea States include even Norway and Iceland. The working group meets at least twice a year for two day meetings since 2000.

As a result of these roundtable discussions special projects have been developed. The Rutilus project, which was an effort to get a grip on the whole underwater heritage sector, was our last major cooperation. The list of the 100 most valuable underwater sites is one of the most important results of this project. In cooperation with the Monitoring Group we produced, from our periodical meetings, the Code of Good Practice for the Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage in the Baltic Sea Region (COPUCH). It is a professional, non-controversial set of guidelines for both experts and decision-makers.

Three main topics dominate our future agenda:
– increasing efforts for educating and informing the public about underwater archaeology
– better professional media and strategies for storage, exchange and presentation of data on underwater heritage and
– More concentrated efforts on raising the status of underwater heritage.