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Working Group: Under water Heritage

Background and justification

The maritime heritage is truly an international heritage. It represents the exchange of goods, ideas and culture around the Baltic Sea as well as the link between the region and the rest of the world.

The Baltic Sea has been navigated as long as humanity has been present, and for thousands of years the sea has claimed its toll of men and boats. Unlike other areas, the low salinity of the Baltic Sea creates very good conservation conditions. The absence of shipworms and large areas of oxygen-free bottom layers has kept the organic material intact. This has made the Baltic Sea one of the world’s richest areas for shipwrecks.

Another important aspect is that parts of the Baltic Sea was dry land during Palaeolithic and Mesolithic times and was then inhabited. Many remains of these habitations are preserved in the sediments of the seabed in the southwestern part of Baltic Sea. These underwater settlement sites are unique in an international context. They represent a specific Baltic heritage which has rich evidence of the Mesolithic culture shedding new light on this period of human culture.

Obviously these scientific treasures calls for a strong protection. Today though, most Baltic Sea states have very narrow protective maritime zones for cultural heritage. Only Denmark has declared a 24 nautical miles zone in accordance with Article 303 in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Outside these zones large areas of the Baltic Sea are accessible to divers – archaeologists as well as looters – which calls for concerted actions to protect the underwater heritage.


The underwater heritage of the Baltic Sea represents remains from the first appearance of man in the area to present day. It is an international heritage that represents the exchange of goods ideas and culture around the Baltic Sea as well as being the link between the region and the rest of the world. The conservation conditions of the remains are extremely good. Low salinity, absence of shipworms and a large portion of oxygen-free bottom layers keep organic material intact.

  • To increase the awareness of the unique cultural heritage in the Baltic Sea we think that the potential of this heritage should be enlightened as a common Baltic Sea heritage.
  • To protect the Baltic Sea underwater heritage - independent of its geographic position - a regional agreement should be developed in accordance with the aims of the global initiatives of UNESCO and the UN convention on Law of the Sea.
  • underwater heritage in the Baltic Sea should be legally protected.

Associated actions

  • Legal protection of all underwater heritage through a regional agreement forbidding nationals and ships to interfere with historic wrecks in all parts of the Baltic Sea.
  • Sharing information from historic sources on wrecks in the Baltic Sea. This will enable the authorities to identify wrecks.
  • Training courses in marine archaeology with participants from all Baltic Sea countries.
  • Travelling exhibitions on underwater heritage.
  • Exchange of practicians.
  • Project: “Baltic Navigation”. Identifying Baltic Sea boat types and their uses and their implication on society around the Baltic Sea.
  • Create map of the Baltic Sea with protection zones (territorial waters – Danish protection zone).
  • Network: List of institutions with underwater heritage capacity. Description of their special fields of excellence.
  • Estimates of historic wrecks in the Baltic Sea. Planned and ongoing events
  • UNESCO has an ongoing work to try to develop a convention on Underwater Archaeology (1999)

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