It is innate to wonder about where we come from, our origins and what inspired our ancestors. It is innate to wander also, to explore so as to learn the past and thereby plan for the future.
It’s been a privilege attending the UNESCO Foundation Course for Underwater Cultural Heritage. I’m even more thrilled to have represented my country, my little Belize, whose growth is slow but steady, even as it relates to underwater cultural heritage. There hasn’t been much research in the discipline in Belize, but the potential is there. We are a nation with a rich culture and history!
A diverse group of individuals met on this tiny island of St. Eustatius. Strong characters with a profound passion for conservation: managers, biologists, archaeologists – a plethora of disciplines all under one roof who share a common goal.
The dynamics of the past month, from theory to practical, set a platform on how to better manage underwater cultural heritage in our home countries with both government and public participation, especially the latter.
Before the start of the course I pondered what attending the course would mean to me. Underwater cultural heritage for a marine biologist? Of course the “underwater” appealed to me, but I hadn’t realized that the two disciplines are integral in the grand scheme of underwater cultural heritage management. Especially for a country like Belize where our economy thrives on the natural environment and history.
Belize is a diverse mixing pot of people. Sure, we have our challenges (who doesn’t?), but we are a proud people who cherish and love our home. That being said, as a proud Belizean, what am I taking back from this course? Knowledge and a network of wisdom. Tools which can and will be used to assist in the sustainable management of our cultural heritage.
Why should we protect our underwater cultural heritage? Simple. It is our heritage – be it on land or underwater – it provides a sense of belonging; belonging to a place our ancestors built, a place we continue to mould, a place for future generations to learn from and to appreciate.
I’ve learned plenty this past month. Not only from the course trainers but also from my fellow comrades. It’s interesting to hear the tales from other countries. From countries that have ratified the 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage and the laws subsequent to the ratification but also, and especially, from those that haven’t and the actions they are currently undertaking in order to protect their underwater cultural heritage. Belize has not ratified (not that we don’t want to – as I type this colleagues back home work diligently to update and amend our legislation). However, we do have legislation in place to protect underwater cultural heritage (though signing on the 2001 Convention would lead to better laws and more stringent penalties).
Though cultures differ (as do their values and ethics, their significance) we all came together for a successful month of thought provoking lectures and discussions, a means of planning ahead for the future. Meeting so many people from all over the globe, connecting with people that share that passion and all who aspire to great things has been inspirational. Chris, Martijn, Ryan, Ruud, Hans, Tatiana, much thanks for imparting your wisdom to us!
As the end of the course nears, we prepare to leave Statia with a sense of accomplishment, gratitude to each other, new friendships and fond memories.
A big thank you to the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) and the Institute of Archaeology of Belize for your support in this venture…
Thank you everyone for being truly amazing!
Jané I. Salazar
Executive Assistant – Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) – Belize Chapter
Executive Assistant – International Forestry Students’ Association-University of Belize (IFSA-UB)
Certified Rescue/Scientific Diver – University of Belize Dive Control Board
1. Marine Sciences & Biology | University of Belize 2010
B.Sc Natural Resources Management | University of Belize 2016