Published on : Wednesday, June 8, 2016
On the occasion of the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War, UNESCO is calling for the protection of shipwrecks from the battles at sea, and has launched an educational initiative that aims to raise young people’s awareness on the importance of this heritage for dialogue, reconciliation and peace.
Some 10,000 ships that sank during the First World War lie among the seabed across the globe. While these remains provide a wealth of information for researchers, they also present a unique teaching opportunity and an essential history page of World War I, also known as the “war of the seas.” This is the objective of the educational initiative “Heritage as a vector of peace and reconciliation.”
These shipwrecks are not only testimonies of the conflict; they are also shrines, housing the remains and the effects of those who died. As we commemorate the centenary of the First World War, these underwater archaeological remains can serve as a platform to explain and understand wars from another vantage point, and in particular to reflect on the issues of peace and reconciliation.
In this context, UNESCO has launched a series of secondary educational materials for teachers and students. The presentation of naval battles and the underwater heritage from World War I is accompanied by testimonials, extracts from logbooks, correspondence, maps and case studies, which can be useful for teachers to prepare projects, excursions and school exhibitions. The materials are distributed through UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network.
The initiative also flags the fragility of underwater heritage and the threats posed by fishing vessels, looting and “souvenir hunting” undertaken by some divers and treasure hunters who now have access to an estimated 98% of the seabed. The fact that ships of the First World War are easier to find than older wrecks, often silted deeper and protected by sediment, makes this heritage even more vulnerable and exposed. These remains give rise to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2001, which provides a framework for States Parties to protect wrecks submerged for one hundred years.
The 2001 Convention was adopted in order that underwater cultural heritage may be protected in a way comparable to that granted to the terrestrial cultural heritage. This is the only international instrument with a universal vocation committed to the protection of underwater cultural heritage, and the States that have ratified it – 55 to date – are committed to preserving this heritage and preventing its commercial exploitation, pillage and illicit trafficking. The Convention also promotes the exchange of information and draws attention to the importance of this heritage, and UNESCO encourages its broader ratification and implementation.