Underwater Cultural Heritage
What is Underwater Cultural Heritage?
Hong Kong has a rich and diverse history related to the sea which is reflected in the stories, legends, past trades, wars and piracy, contemporary cultural practices, vast shipping and port operations, and underwater cultural heritage (UCH) sites and objects. And while there is extensive knowledge about Hong Kong’s history across disciplines such as built heritage, terrestrial archaeological sites and intangible heritage, little is known about underwater cultural heritage. The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is dedicated to changing that.
By funding and sourcing government and private grants, dedicated efforts are underway to research, survey, document and increase public awareness of UCH, the importance of the subject to Hong Kong and China and how public policy should be implemented at a local and national level.
Global, National and Regional Practices
The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001 (UCH Convention 2001) is now universally accepted as international best practices. And while China has not ratified it, their work is consistent with the principal and practices of the convention. In fact, China has developed world-renowned UCH programmes, including an impressive number of maritime museums and a call for a uniform approach in managing its UCH nationwide.
The Hong Kong government has legislation that provides for the protection, research and management of UCH, but it does not implement an active programme in this area. It relies of Marine Archaeology Investigations (MAI) as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process — which is limited in approach—pertaining only to property development areas, which often end in dispute about the value of heritage and how much will it cost to preserve identified UCH. The recent discovery in of a possible shipwreck identified in the course of constructing Hong Kong’s Wan Chai Bypass and Island Eastern Corridor Link is one example.