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Asia-Pacific Underwater Cultural Heritage Conference Opened in Honolulu

The 2nd Asia-Pacific Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage started today at the University of Hawai’i in Honolulu, bringing together some 150 leading scholars and experts in the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) management from 27 countries in the Asia and the Pacific region.

To celebrate this occasion, Kumu Hula Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu gave the delegates a blessing from the native Hawaiian community. Ms Cynthia L. Hunter, Director, University of Hawaii Marine Option Program, then delivered her opening remarks as host institute. In her speech, Dr Hunter drew the attention to the importance of the Conference which would contribute to the development of the academic decipline of UCH that is relatively new area and that depends on a small group of scholars, experts and professionals.

Mr Etienne Clement, Director, UNESCO Office for the Pacific States, introduced the principles of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in his opening remarks. He said “The protection of the UCH, in particular, ancient shipwrecks laying on the seabed under various jurisdictions, is, by nature, an international issue.” Highlighting the special nature of the UCH Convention, he stated “The States which joined the Convention made a very important commitment by agreeing on rules applicable by their officials and on their territorial seas, but also by vessels bearing their flag and by their nationals, allowing therefore that its rules can be applicable, in cases foreseen by the Convention, to treasure hunters and the industry”. Providing an overview of UNESCO’s activities in the Pacific, he underlined the importance of inccorporaitng the legal training into the UCH capacity building activities.

James P. Delgado, Director, Maritime Heritage Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), then delivered the keynote speech. He presented a concept of maritime cultural landscape, as a new approach to ensure a holistic protection and management of UCH. He encouraged the Conference delegates to listen and share each others’ views and experiences in order to enhance the safeguarding of UCH as “common heritage of the humanity, children of the sea”.

The Conference Planning Committee is chaired by Dr Hans Van Tilburg, NOAA. The Conference has received support from a number of sponsors including the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, the Field Museum, SEAMEO/SPAFA, Ship and Discovery.

During the Conference, 15 thematic sessions will be organised, providing an opportunity for scholarly exchanges and discussions on international cooperation.

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