The Impact of Commercial Exploitation on the Preservation of Underwater Cultural Heritage


  • Tatiana Villegas Zamora

    1. Tatiana Villegas is a Colombian underwater archaeologist who has worked on the development of underwater cultural heritage protection in her own and other developing countries over the last ten years. She is an international tutor for the Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS) and specializes in the field of training and awareness-raising. As part of the Colombian delegation and as a member of ICUCH, she participated in four governmental expert meetings (1996–2001) which studied the draft of the 2001 UNESCO Convention.
    Search for more papers by this author


It is impossible to talk about underwater cultural heritage and not reflect upon the problem of the commercial exploitation of submerged archaeological sites. The romantic notion of the search for lost treasure embodied in books and popular movies such as the Indiana Jones series takes on a different aspect when we consider that treasure hunting has become one of the most dangerous and devastating threats to the preservation of underwater cultural heritage. Fishing communities, irresponsible sport divers collecting souvenirs or modern-day salvors often equipped with high technology are destroying this newly accessible and rich heritage. Their sole motivation is commercial profit without any concern for archaeological research, preservation of cultural and historical values or the potential for sustainable development involving cultural tourism for the benefit of coastal populations. This article will try to present an overview of the scope of site destruction by commercial exploitation, the loss of scientific information and the strategies used to convince governments and deceive public opinion.