Jennifer McKinnon, Chair

In early June, I traveled to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on behalf of ACUA in support of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. For those who are not familiar, each year, those countries that are signatories of the Convention send a country representative to the Meetings of the States Parties (MSP). During the MSP, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body (STAB) of the 2001 Convention, a subsidiary body of 14 experts elected by the MSP, provides advice to the Meeting in scientific and technical matters. STAB assesses compliance with the Rules of the Annex to the Convention in all activities directed at underwater cultural heritage, and contributes to capacity building, to the development of national action plans, and to guiding States Parties in the implementation process.

In support of the MSP and STAB, the Accredited Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) of the Convention, a coordinate group established in 2018, meets adjacent to the MSP and STAB of which ACUA is a strong and active member. Organizations wishing to be involved are required to apply for accreditation to the UNESCO Convention Secretariat and membership is evaluated and approved by the Convention STAB and must be re-accredited every four years. It’s a process – but one that is well worth it.

The UNESCO accredited NGOs are a collective from across the globe that work in support of the Convention within their fieldwork activities, outreach, dissemination, training and advocacy which makes for lively meetings! It is always exciting to join colleagues and discuss how individually we work to collectively support the protection of UCH. This year was no different – there is A LOT going on!

Side meeting of NGOs during the Meeting of State Parties, June 2024. Photo courtesy Jen McKinnon.

First off, we are excited to have a new website that is actively being populated with content. Please check it out here and visit on a regular basis as it is built. With over 20 NGOs there are a few projects that we are collectively tackling. The first, called So MUCH Under the Waves (Survey of Maritime and Cultural Heritage), is a project still in development with lofty goals including data gathering, ocean literacy and dissemination, outreach, and advocacy. Stay tuned for more information about the project. The group is also very excited about hosting a side event at the MSP in Nice, France in 2025. This side event will engage State Parties Members to educate them on what underwater archaeology is and impress upon them the importance of protecting UCH. There is likely to be VR experiences, 3D printed sites, and other interactive activities for the appointed politicians to engage with. Finally, funding has been set aside by the UNESCO Secretariat for NGOs to develop a project that supports the protection of UCH in the Caribbean and discourages treasure hunting of significant shipwrecks. This project is important, as the Caribbean region often falls prey to those whose interest in shipwreck remains personal gains and commercial profits at the expense of preservation. The project is developing now and within a year it will be launched and reported upon.

As you can see from some of the projects, it is critical that ACUA is an active member of the Accredited NGO group and can lend the effort and force of all our members to support the group, STAB, MSP, and the Secretariat. Having a seat at the international table is important and significant in many ways, allowing ACUA to maintain its relevancy in this fast-paced, ever-changing field.

Left: Jen McKinnon at UNESCO in Paris during the MSP and meeting of international NGOs. Photo courtesy Jen McKinnon

Top: Members of several NGOs sharing some downtime and exchanging ideas. Photo courtesy Jen McKinnon

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