2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic.For much of this past century, the world thought that the world's most famous ship was lost forever to a watery grave, along with the 1,513 men, women, and children who lost their lives in the disaster. But tragedy turned to triumph in 1985, when after a decades long quest, the wreck was discovered 12,000 feet beneath the icy surface of the Atlantic. The breakthrough heralded a new age of nautical exploration.
Technology has unlocked earth’s last frontier to adventurers, scientists, and treasure hunters. Shipwrecks and lost cities await, promising a wealth of knowledge about ancient civilizations, and other untold riches. But they have long been at the mercy of nature and time, and now, sites once protected by the ocean depths are also falling victim to plunder. We are in a race to the relics on the ocean floor --- against the elements and each other --- but who will prevail?
The law is struggling to keep pace, as it too enters uncharted territory. Traditionally, the oceans have been open to all nations, yet have belonged to none. That freedom of the seas can no longer hold with such valuable resources --- cultural and environmental --- in the balance. The conflict is pitting archaeologists against salvagers, ship-owners against insurers, and even countries against one another. In centuries past, such clashes were decided through naval warfare, but today’s maritime campaigns are fought in courts of law. The stakes are high, and the battleground wide, since the sea covers three fourths of the planet.
What will be the fate of underwater cultural heritage?
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Panel I: The Importance of Underwater Cultural Heritage and the Threats Facing It
Panel II: The 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage 10 Years After
Panel III: Titanic at 100
Panel IV: Looking Forward