SeArch - Archaeological heritage in the North Sea

Development of an efficient evaluation methodology and proposal for sustainable management in Belgium

IWT Project 120003 – Program Strategic Basic Research (SBO)

Heritage in the sea is hardly known of. Nevertheless, it is an important part of our cultural heritage. This unique marine heritage is endangered due to the increasing pressure of commercial activities at sea such as sand and gravel extraction, the installation of windmill parks, dredging work, etc.

Moreover, this is not the only threat. Due to the division of responsibility between the federal state and the regions and communities of Belgium, there are still no coherent regulations for heritage at sea, despite the fact that on the political as well as level of the administration one is aware of the need for action. In simple terms, the North Sea is territorially a federal authority and the authority for heritage is assigned to regions and communities.

European regulations and international conventions such as the UNESCO- convention for the protection of underwater heritage from 2001 strive to improve the worldwide level of care for this vulnerable heritage. Since the start of the project, Belgium has ratified the UNESCO Convention, on August 5th of 2013, and has already in the spring of 2014 implemented to a large extent this convention into Belgian federal law.

Currently, the evaluation of the value of the archaeological heritage at sea is still very time consuming and costly, particularly given the absence of an efficient survey methodology. In addition, some articles of the UNESCO convention remain to be translated into national and regional laws or instruments and into implementation policies and methodologies.

The SeArch project should allow for the mapping of the unique marine archaeological archive at an acceptable cost and with sufficient legal certainty in the framework of marine exploitation.

The research has two distinct goals:

  • The development of an efficient and high-quality survey methodology to estimate the archaeological potential of work affected areas at sea and in the coastal zone. This includes both existing conventional techniques as well as new and adapted techniques.
  • The preparation of a clear policy and a proper legal framework in relation to marine archaeological heritage. The legal framework has to support good management of valuable heritage but must not get in the way of planned economic exploitation of the North Sea.

In this project, there will be close collaboration with marine industry, government partners, fisheries, port authorities, social actors and the scientific world. This is for example made possible by various advisory committees.

Download the project brochure here (in Dutch) (short or long version).