A diver examines debris left from fishing gear in the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, a nationally protected area in the United States that allows trawling and fishing within its borders.
Threats to Underwater Cultural Heritage from Existing and Future Human Activities


  • Charlotte Jarvis The Ocean Foundation
  • Maria Pena Ermida Católica Research Centre for the Future of Law
  • Ole Varmer The Ocean Foundation





Our ocean heritage (natural and cultural) is at risk from destructive human activities, including bottom trawling, deep seabed mining (DSM), and potentially polluting wrecks (PPWs). The stories of our societies and our ancestors are often connected with the ocean and captured on the seafloor as artifacts, shipwrecks and the remains of those lost or buried at sea. Previously, marine global heritage protection efforts have been largely focused on natural heritage. However, Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) is also ocean heritage and must be considered the same way. We must shine a light on UCH as heritage and insist that it be part of Marine Spatial Planning with integrated ocean and coastal management. Approaches include, but are not limited to, (1) Conducting baseline surveys to identify heritage that should be conserved and preserved for present and future generations; (2) Environmental assessments taking into account the impact of human activities on both natural and cultural heritage; (3) Measures to identify, avoid or minimize the adverse impacts; and (4) The application of a precautionary approach to trawling, DSM and salvage of PPWs, calling for a moratorium on these activities unless and until steps 1 – 3 have been accomplished, permits/other management controls are in place and significant natural and cultural sites have been designated as protected areas.

How to Cite

Jarvis, C., Ermida, M. P., & Varmer, O. (2023). Threats to Underwater Cultural Heritage from Existing and Future Human Activities. Blue Papers, 2(1), 76–83. https://doi.org/10.58981/bluepapers.2023.1.08





challenges, concepts and new approaches

Author Biographies

Charlotte Jarvis, The Ocean Foundation

Charlotte Jarvis is a maritime archaeologist and historian with degrees from Texas A&M University and Durham University. She works with The Ocean Foundation as an underwater cultural heritage consultant highlighting how UCH and natural heritage is connected and must be preserved. Her previous work has focused on marine climate change, with an interest in early modern sailors’ beliefs and how we can use history to inform environmental policies. She holds a research position at Het Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.

Maria Pena Ermida, Católica Research Centre for the Future of Law

Maria Pena Ermida is a doctoral student at Católica Global School of Law, Universidade Católica Portugesa. Her research focuses on the law of the sea and the governance of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. Her master’s thesis, “The Precautionary Principle Applies to Deep-Sea Mining,” focused specifically on seabed mining and its legal position.

Ole Varmer, The Ocean Foundation

Ole Varmer is a senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation with over 30 years of legal experience in international and US environmental and historic preservation law. He was the legal expert on the UNESCO team that produced the Evaluation Report of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (2019) and has published dozens of articles and chapters on the law of the sea, marine environmental law and maritime law and heritage law (natural and cultural).


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