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Why an Ocean Decade Heritage Network?

In 2017, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) was tasked by the UN General Assembly to develop a focused approach to addressing multiple stressors on global marine systems and manage them sustainably through ocean observations and research. The resulting Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030  is a large-scale UN initiative that promotes a common framework for supporting ocean stakeholders in studying and assessing the health of the world’s oceans. The intended outcomes are “to predict the consequences of change, design mitigation, and guide adaptation” and to “ensure ocean science can fully support countries in creating improved conditions for sustainable development of the Ocean”, complementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 “Life below Water”.

A revised “Roadmap” for the Decade, disseminated in June 2018 notes that “‘Ocean Science’ should be interpreted broadly as encompassing: social sciences and human dimensions”, but these subjects are not discussed in the subsequent 51 pages of the document. Heritage is almost completely omitted except for two brief references to stakeholders. However, it is clear that underwater cultural heritage (UCH) and interdisciplinary maritime/marine archaeological activities already fit well into the goals of the Decade and in fact overlap with the Decade’s seven Research & Development Aims, and proposed research agendas and societal outcomes. The Decade initiative therefore presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the integration of archaeology and cultural heritage management within the marine sciences. The Ocean Decade Heritage Network was established in June 2019 to raise awareness in the cultural heritage community about the Decade and coordinate related activities towards this opportunity.

Our contention is not just
“How can cultural heritage help deliver the Decade?”
“Without cultural heritage, how can you deliver the Decade?”

How will the Ocean Decade Heritage Network work?

The task ahead is to ensure that this opportunity is fully realised across the ten years from 2021 to 2030, and this starts during the critical Decade Preparatory Phase (2018-2020). During this phase, stakeholder forums, regional workshops, and Global Planning Meetings (GPM), will be held to develop science plans, capacity building efforts, resource mobilisation, and communications and engagement strategies. Additionally, members of the Decade’s Executive Planning Group (EPG) will be attending most of these events as well as coordinating activities through UNESCO-IOC and other networks.

Although IOC is developing a Decade plan, it recognises its limited means. Implementation of the Decade is likely to take effect through national and regional programmes, and across public, private, and philanthropic sectors. This fractured approach enables a group such as the Ocean Decade Heritage Network to coordinate a targeted global marine archaeology and cultural heritage community response during the Preparatory Phase.

The provisional Organising Committee of the Ocean Decade Heritage Network represent various institutions that have enabled us to take part in the first Global Planning Meeting, but we feel it is important that engagement in the Decade is “owned” by the emerging Network as a whole, to be truly global and to make space for voices and perspectives that may not be as well represented by existing institutions. We anticipate that marine archaeologists, cultural heritage specialists, universities, NGOs, and national authorities will want to play a big role in the Decade, but there are also other active sectors – including local authorities and professional archaeological services – that should be encouraged to bring their expertise to bear too. Connections also need to be made between marine archaeologists and researchers in disciplines that address cultural heritage—including intangible heritage – in the marine sphere. The Network is open to all, and welcomes your input and information.