Best Practices

Best Practices of Underwater Cultural Heritage

Based on the premise that only those who know the heritage can protect it, the 2001 Convention encourages responsible access to underwater heritage. The challenges of promoting and protecting underwater heritage are specific to each site, and UNESCO, aware of these multiple and heterogeneous contexts, is developing various awareness-raising and capacity-building activities aimed at all stakeholders. The activities implemented by the Secretariat allow, in particular, through different tools and media, to raise awareness among the general public, local communities and youth on the promotion and protection of underwater heritage. These initiatives of valorization of the cultural heritage have also been set up to sensitize the tourists and the tourist sector. Because the responsibility of protecting the underwater heritage is incumbent on everyone - States Parties, public services in charge of the management of this heritage, but also the general public and tourism actors. This common and shared responsibility is one of the guidelines of the 2001 Convention.

Promoting access to underwater cultural heritage through the exchange of best practices among States Parties is one of many examples of the implementation of the principle of international cooperation.

The exchange of best practices provides States Parties with specific responses to the heterogeneous and multiple challenges of protecting and promoting underwater heritage. The efficiency and relevance of best practices give visibility to the promotion and protection of underwater cultural heritage.

Best practices thus allow :

  • Encourage responsible and non-intrusive public access to underwater cultural heritage in accordance with Articles 2.5 and 2.10 of the Convention,
  • Increase public awareness, recognition and protection of heritage,
  • To promote the Convention and the establishment of national legal frameworks for protection,
  • To support scientific research in accordance with the Convention and the Rules concerning activities directed at underwater cultural heritage annexed to it, and capacity building in this regard, and
  • To promote the appropriate conservation of heritage,

The Meeting of States Parties, by its Resolution 4/5MSP adopted at its fifth session, wished to strengthen cooperation among States Parties by inviting them to submit examples of Best Practices in the implementation of the Convention. These Best Practices are evaluated by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body, which makes recommendations to the Meeting of States Parties regarding their designation. This establishes a register of these Best Practices for use by all States Parties to the 2001 Convention.

To facilitate the submission of these Best Practice examples, the Secretariat has developed a form for the submission of Best Practice examples.

To submit a Best Practice example to the Conference of States Parties, heritage must:

  • • falls within the definition of Article 1 of the 2001 Convention or is at least 100 years old, but is classified as underwater cultural heritage under national legislation
  • be adequately protected both legally and practically, in particular through the implementation of the Rules concerning activities directed at underwater cultural heritage of the Convention,
    • respect responsible and non-intrusive access,
    • have a framework for sustainable management.

The UNESCO label

The Best Practices designated by the Conference of States Parties upon recommendation of the STAB receive a label with the logo of the 2001 Convention in order to promote their visibility to the general public.

This designation has many advantages :

1. It increases the visibility of the site or the institution concerned (for example an underwater museum);

2. It encourages other States Parties to follow these best practice examples by adopting similar protection and management measures;

3. It distinguishes and promotes responsible access to underwater cultural heritage; and

4. It allows actors in charge of heritage and whose activities have been recognized as Best Practices to network and cooperate through joint activities (scientific exchanges, joint temporary exhibitions etc.).


Examples of Designated Best Practices

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Andalusia's Underwater Archaeological Heritage, Spain

Created  in  2004,  the  Management  and  Information System of  Cultural  Assets  of  Andalusia (MOSAICO) is an information system which contains extensive information about heritage sites, including 900  historical  shipwrecks.  While the sites now benefit from legal protection, visits are encouraged for both divers and tourists. Training courses and seminars are also organized. Contact. More information.

Cap del Vol and Cala Cativa shipwrecks, Spain

This project studied shipwrecks at Cap del Vol and Cala Cativa that sank while transporting wine between the first century BC and the second century AD. Efforts to enable heritage access include publications, an exhibition at the Archaeological Museum of Barcelona, conferences, scuba-guided visits to the shipwrecks during archaeological excavation works, on-site protection, and a documentary. Contact. More information.

Deltebre I shipwreck, Spain

The shipwreck of Deltebre I was discovered in 2008. It sank in 1813, during the Peninsular War. The Underwater Archaeology Centre of Catalonia (CASC) began excavations in 2009 that were completed in 2016. Heritage access has been provided through public visits during the excavations. Additionally, a special traveling exhibition displays the results of the excavations in diverse locations. Contact. More information.

The Bou Ferrer Shipwreck, Spain

The Bou Ferrer Wreck is a Roman shipwreck of the first century CE, located off the coast of Villajoyosa, Spain. Heritage access is guaranteed through public visits to the site, access to the archaeological materials in museums, videos, educational messages and informal reports, as well as presentations and conferences. Contact. More information.

The Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes Project, Spain

The frigate Nuestra Señora sank in 4 October 1804. The shipwreck site is located 34 nautical miles coast of Portugal, off the Cabo de Santa Maria. The Mercedes Project has become one of the clearest international examples of the Convention’s meaning and raison d’être. The artefacts removed by Odyssey were deposited at the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, who was in charge of managing approximately 14 tons of archaeological material. Contact. More information.

The National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (ARQUA) - Spain

The National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, ARQUA, established in Cartagena in 1982, is in charge of the study, assessment, research, preservation, promotion and protection of the Spanish underwater cultural heritage, collaborates with the regional administrations and their research centers, and works in cooperation with the States Parties. It also hosts the Permanent Observatory of the National Plan for the Protection of Underwater Archaeological Heritage. Contact. More information.

Underwater Archaeology Museum in Fuerte de San José El Alto, Mexico

The Museum of Campeche has a collection of more than 900 elements of underwater archaeology recovered in the marine and continental waters of the Yucatan Peninsula. It has two locations: one in San Jose El Alto, holding the authentic collections, and one in the area of Playa Bonita. The location in Playa Bonita strengthens the visibility of underwater cultural heritage through hands-on activities. For example, visitors may experience a replica of one of the excavated vessels through diving, snorkeling, and glass bottom boats, among other activities. Contact. More information.

Underwater Cultural Heritage in the Chinchorro Bank, Mexico

Since 2006, the Sub-Directorate of Underwater Archaeology of the Mexican National of Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) integrates the underwater cultural resources chart of the Chinchorro Bank. It develops interdisciplinary studies to understand the formation and the transformation processes of submerged archaeological contexts. Contact. More information.

Underwater Heritage in Sea of Cascais, Portugal

One hundred and thirty underwater cultural heritage sites, dating from the Roman era to the modern and contemporary periods, have been documented in the Underwater Archaeological Chart by the Municipality of Cascais, Portugal (PROCASC). Restricted heritage access to the main sites are now offered to the public. Some sites that remain under study but generate extra interest have been made accessible to amateur divers, provided that the visits can be integrated into the monitoring work of archaeologists and biologists. Contact. More information

Subaquatic Archaeological Charter of the Azores, Portugal

The Azores archipelago counts over one thousand registered shipwrecks, submerged in over five centuries since people first arrived to live on the islands. The Regional Government selected 30 UCH sites for a subaquatic itinerary to allow reasonable access for visitors.  In terms of efforts for a responsible access to the public, the Regional Government implements a series of touring exhibits on underwater archaeology and develops educational and interactive material for the general public. ContactMore information.

The Ljubljanica River Phenomenon, Slovenia

The 23 km stretch of the Ljubljana River between Vrhnika and Ljubljana and the surrounding floodplains, the Ljubljana Marshes hold many objects or groups of objects submerged and exposed at the bottom of the river. The numerous objects discovered are diverse and all testify of the particular role of the river for local communities. The Ljubljana Exhibition and Discovery Site project is the first phrase of a larger integrated programme to revitalize the cultural and natural heritage of the Ljubljana basin. Contact. More information.

The Barge Arles-Rhône 3, France

Discovered in 2004, surveyed in 2005 and 2006, excavated from 2007 to 2011 and recovered that same year, the hull of this barge is 93% complete. The barge is installed in the Departmental of Ancient Arles with some 480 objects surrounding it. The arrangement evokes three themes for the visitors: navigation, sea-river trade and harbour activities. Contact. More information.


Some Best Practices are temporary projects and sometimes end up being suspended. However, these successful initiatives combining promotion and protection of underwater cultural heritage should be documented. 

That is why a list of archived Best Practices is published here. The body of reference of initiatives promoting underwater cultural heritage is preserved and made available in order to ensure the implementation of the principle of international cooperation in the framework of access to underwater cultural heritage and to allow its protection. 

Underwater Cultural Heritage at the Nevado de Toluca, Mexico.

The National Nature Reserve of Nevado de Toluca is a stratovolcano located at 4680 meters above sea level. Inside the crater, there are two perennial bodies of water known as the Sun Lake and the Moon Lake. Archaeological materials deposited inside the lakes are well preserved. The aim of the project is to involve local communities with their own cultural heritage through dialogue. Exhibitions, publications, and documentary screenings encourage this dialogue through awareness and discussion. Contact. More information.