The St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (SECAR) is situated in a big house with large rooms. The story goes that the building was designed in centimeters, but built in inches instead. This past mistake, makes the center perfectly capable to host a bunch of students in bunk beds for a UNESCO course on Underwater Cultural Heritage. The incredibly rich colonial history of St. Eustatius is of course also a welcome addition.
Sixteen students from Haiti, Bonaire, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Curaçao, St Eustatius, Saba, Belize, Venezuela, Surinam, South Africa and the Netherlands form a diverse group. Their diverse professional backgrounds make for lively discussions on topics like the significance of underwater heritage, the way to go about in a reef and what should be done with artefacts. The first weeks are filled with 8-hour days of theory, where everybody slowly sinks into the comfortable couches at SECAR.
Luckily the occasional excursion, a little volleyball, a strenuous work-out regime, lead by our Venezuelan ‘Jean-Claude van Damme’, and the promise of a full week of archaeological diving around the sunken warehouses of St. Eustatius keep everybody quite lively.
Johan Schaeffer is one of the students participating in the course. On Saba, he is the General Manager of SABARC, the Saba Archaeological Center. SABARC has three main tasks: establishing a cultural heritage center, coordinating community and youth projects and managing archaeological activities on Saba.
On November 16, the second UNESCO Foundation Course for Underwater Cultural Heritage Management in the Caribbean started on St. Eustatius. The first edition was in 2012 in Port Royal, Jamaica. Sixteen students from the Netherlands, St Eustatius, Saba, Bonaire, Curacao, Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Belize, South Africa and Surinam participate in the course. During a month six trainers will train students in the protection and management of cultural heritage under water. In the coming weeks, you can read all about the course and the students will share their experiences in this blog.
The seabed in the Caribbean is filled with historic shipwrecks. Many of them are frequented by tourists, others are barely recognizable by affecting vegetation or coral. Other wrecks are still undiscovered. How do we deal with these wrecks? How can we protect the wrecks and simultaneously use them for cultural tourism or as a hotspot for biodiversity? What should we do if something needs to be built into the water or dredged? These and many more questions will be answered during the course.
This course consists of a theoretical and practical part. The first part of the course will be in the building of SECAR, St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research. The practice will consist of the mapping of the 18th century Dutch warehouses lying at a depth of up to 5 meters off the coast of St Eustatius. In addition to the mapping of the buildings, suggestions will be made for how to handle this in the future. The dive operations are supervised by Scubaqua Dive Centre.
The organizers and trainers are Martijn Manders of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) and the University of Leiden and Chris Underwood of Proas Argentina and the Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS). Together we have already done many capacity building projects in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Jamaica and now here on this Caribbean island – which is, along with Saba and Bonaire, a special municipality of the Netherlands. Ruud Stelten and Ryan Espersen are respectively working on St Eustatius (SECAR) and Saba (SABARC) and do their PhD research in Leiden on the two islands. They help with the local organization and will also help in providing training. There is also a trainer of UNESCO (Haiti), Tatiana Villegas and from the United States (NOAA), Hans van Tilburg is also involved.
The course is made possible by the Maritime Programme and the Shared Heritage Programme of the RCE as the main sponsor, assisted by the University of Leiden, The NEXUS 1492 Project, UNESCO and the ICOMOS Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage (ICUCH). The main reason for the RCE to finance this course is that we assume that people are highly important in cultural heritage management. It is the people who can do the management, they can appreciate, learn to love, use and protect heritage. Therefore, capacity building is so important in both the Maritime Programme as the Shared Heritage Programme of the RCE.
The training in the Caribbean is part of as many as three important tasks of the RCE: first, the agency is involved in the management and protection of Dutch shipwrecks overseas. Shipwrecks of which the Dutch claim ownership have priority, of the VOC, WIC and admiralty (and more modern warships). Some of these ships are in Caribbean waters, just think of the Huis te Kruiningen in Tobago, but also the Alphen in Curacao and the privateers ships around Cuba. Good management can only take place with the approval and cooperation of the countries where these ships are. The aim is to have the wrecks submitted in the overall management of those countries. Well trained archaeologists make that job a lot easier. The claim of the Netherlands on the property is just a safety net in case a country wants to or cannot take care of the wrecks.
The second reason for funding is the Shared Heritage Programme (head of the programme is Jean Paul Corten) of which the maritime part is performed by the Maritime Programme. The Netherlands work very closely with 10 priority countries in the field of Cultural Heritage Management. Again, the highest priority is capacity building. In this course three priority countries are represented: South Africa, Suriname and the US.
A third reason to create a capacity building project for underwater cultural heritage on St. Eustatius has to do with the role of the RCE in the Netherlands and the goals of the Maritime Programme for the deployment of a sound management in Dutch waters. Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba are special municipalities of the Netherlands. So far, there has been very little attention for creating a management strategy in one of these municipalities. This also applies to the other countries in our kingdom: Curacao, Aruba and St. Maarten. By educating people, but also by encouraging them afterwards, we can initiate great projects. After all, the islands are also largely dependent on dive tourism in the Caribbean. There lies a challenge: to integrate heritage management in the conservation of the islands. It could even give the economy a boost! In the course Curacao, Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba are present.
With some goodwill we can ratify the 2015 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. This is very important for the mainland of the Netherlands, but perhaps even more for the Dutch Caribbean islands. The Latin American and Caribbean region has the highest number of countries that have ratified the convention. So there is already a platform for cooperation between the states. An integrated management approach seems to be crucial in this region. That is why several countries are present and building a platform is stimulated by cooperating in this course. Because the ratification is one thing, building a responsible management of underwater cultural heritage is another. To achieve this you need knowledge but also help, which can be found in the region by supporting each other’s work.
In other words, this training is only a start, it should be a spin off for more. In the coming weeks we will provide you with this blog to keep you informed of the course.
Martijn Manders Head of the Maritime Programme (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands), organizer and trainer