Sustaining Awareness of the 2001 Convention

By Marco Meniketti
Chair, ACUA

An important, if not vital element of the mission of the ACUA is making people aware of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. While members of ACUA may be aware of the Convention, surprisingly few in the maritime archaeological community share the same level of awareness. It should not be then come as a surprise that many others in the archaeological profession have no awareness at all of the purpose of the Convention or of the Annex Rules. Although many of the tenants and guidelines for best practices have been adopted by the National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, the origins of these practices are not often considered.

The ACUA has as one of its policies to regularly conduct workshops covering all the major elements of maritime and underwater archaeology, from survey techniques to public outreach.  These workshops serve both to help the ACUA meet its obligations as a UNESCO accredited NGO, and to disseminate information about underwater archaeology to a broader audience.  For two years in a row the ACUA attracted a sell-out audience for the workshop on underwater archaeology at the conference of the Society for California Archaeology, underscoring the interest in the field and the need to continue outreach efforts. However, registration for the workshop at the Society for Historical Archaeology conferences has been underwhelming.   Two factors may be influencing the low attendance at SHA; saturation and preaching to the choir syndrome.  It will be necessary for the ACUA to broaden its reach and find additional venues in which to conduct the workshops and to find additional ways to make the workshops appealing. The modules of the workshop have been crafted over the years by members of the ACUA and provide valuable information to those new to the protocols of underwater archaeology.

The ACUA must continue to find ways to promote the Convention beyond the profession and reach the general public if we are to sustain our mission and increase our profile. As described in an earlier Blog piece, one way the ACUA can achieve this is goal is with active leadership in the Decade of Ocean Science.  Another is with the awarding of the new ACUA proclamation of Excellence in Maritime Archaeology Preservation designed to recognize organizations engaged in preservation, documentation, and protection efforts.

ACUA board member Dave Ball discussing survey methods at the 2019 Society for California Archaeology conference underwater archaeology workshop. Photo courtesy Marco Meniketti.

Every member of the ACUA is active in maritime archaeology through a wide range of professional venues.  Within individual institutions, agencies, or companies, ACUA members tackle the issues of preservation and protection in their daily lives. However, commendable as these efforts are, they cannot reach as far as we need to extend our message. Maritime sites are under siege through erosion of regulatory statutes that added protections just as much terrestrial as sites are impacted. Of even greater concern are the dangers to marine sites implicit in the new deregulation and redefining of intermittent bodies of water. Seasonal streams, estuaries, wetlands, and bodies of water containing archaeological sites are threatened by “Redefining the Waters of United States” with the Executive Order signed on February 28, 2017, “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United Rule.”  

The ACUA cannot sit back and wait for a new administration to reverse these ill-conceived give-a ways to developers. The ACUA must be proactive and address the issue directly following two tactics.

The first is to contact members of the Legislative branch with specific concerns and request. The second involves increased public outreach.  At every opportunity the ACUA can be outspoken on the issue of preservation.  I would like to use this platform to encourage ACUA members and maritime archaeologists everywhere to participate in public forums to share the goals of the Convention. For instance, I recently agreed to give a talk at a service organization. Such groups are always looking for speakers. From that opportunity I was able to also give a public lecture at the local library.  Audiences were limited to just under twenty in each case, but this did not diminish the importance of the first person contact.  At every turn we must reach out to sustain our message of the value of maritime archaeology and the richness of this shared heritage.  In both speaking opportunities I encountered the usual tropes of treasure-hunting, and the misconception that nothing can be learned from shipwrecks or underwater sites in general.  These teaching moments are golden.

The ACUA has a purpose greater than the agendas of its members and all of us are committed to sustaining the mission to protect underwater cultural heritage. We need to engage the public as often as we can. Every encounter is a an opportunity to increase awareness, build bridges, and gain support.