Written by Dr. Arturo Rey da Silva, Honor Frost Foundation Post-Doctoral Researcher, the University of Edinburgh, and Edinburgh Marine Archaeology Cultural Heritage Specialist

The Fifth Honor Frost Foundation (HFF) Policy Forum “Archaeology and Marine Development in the eastern Mediterranean” was successfully organized at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt, on 27 April 2023. The meeting was organized in hybrid format to allow some participants and speakers to attend the presentations and discussions. The meeting was attended by 47 people, including relevant heritage, petroleum, navy and environmental administrations from the region, notably from Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt.

After the welcoming words from Alison Cathie, on behalf of HFF, Adrian Olivier, on behalf of HFF’s Steering Committee, and Emad Khalil, on behalf of the Centre for Hellenistic Studies at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a presentation by Lucy Blue (HFF Maritime Archaeology Director) and Arturo Rey da Silva (University of Edinburgh and HFF’s SCUCH Technical Advisor) highlighted the importance of marine cultural heritage (MCH) and maritime archaeology for ensuring appropriate sustainable development in the eastern Mediterranean. This first presentation also contextualised the main challenges that archaeology experiences within the rapid marine development trends in the region and outlined the main aims of the Policy Forum.

The Fifth Honor Frost Foundation Policy Forum took place on 27 April 2023 in Alexandria, Egypt. This historical city faces a rapid increase in urban and marine development while it straggles to preserve its thousands of years history evidenced in its archaeological sites found along its coastline, on land or underwater (Photo: A. Rey).

The First Session presented the context and the main challenges of MCH and maritime archaeology in the framework of marine development. Presentations on the different policy frameworks and the need for cooperation and synergies, coupled with examples and success models from Cyprus and Germany. This was followed by a Second Session that identified the main conflicts and opportunities of maritime archaeology and MCH in the era of Blue Economy. The contribution of maritime archaeology and the data obtained from deep sea research was one the main highlights of this section. Data specificity and sharing mechanisms were among the main topics discussed, with examples of work carried out in Lebanon in the framework of Oil and Gas exploitation and Environmental preservation. Different stakeholders, including private companies, the Lebanese Petroleum Administation, the Lebanese General Directorate of Antiquities and the Egyptian Department for Underwater Antiquities took the floor and presented their work and perspectives. 

The third Session initiated with a presentation on Marine Spatial Planning and the relevance of including cultural heritage within planning processes at sea. This exemplified how heritage can be effectively protected and utilised for social development and well-being when the existing tools are appropriately implemented. Then, participants were divided into three different groups and were prompted to discuss on four main topics: The role of industries in heritage preservation; Policy solutions for spatial conflicts; Synergies and cross sectoral cooperation; and, Interoperability and data exchange. Results were presented to the audience and discussed among the participants. These discussions will form the basis of a consensus document that will aim to guide future actions and will  be shared among all stakeholders involved. 

Heritage practitioners, representatives from concerned administrations and companies from Cyrpus, Egypt and Lebanon got together to agree in common interests and develop better cooperation mechanisms (Photo: A. Rey).

The main topics discussed at the 5th HFF Policy Forum were:

  • The Policy Forum provided an exceptional venue to discuss the appropriate course of action towards establishing integrated policies where marine heritage is firmly in the equation. The Forum succeeded in bringing together and boosting dialogue among the different administrations from the target countries. In most cases, these administrations had not initiated dialogue on this subject before and the Forum was the first time that their representatives talked about common interests and joint concerns.  
  • The participants agreed on the need to create working groups between administrations (i.e., Petroleum, Navy, Transport, and Culture administrations), companies and heritage practitioners at national level to advance in cross-administration policies and their appropriate implementation. 
  • Participants also highlighted the need to develop specific guidelines for data sharing and data specifications to facilitate cooperation and agreements between heritage practitioners and the marine sector.
  • The need for further capacity development within and beyond the heritage circles was also highlighted. Effective training programmes that provide the necessary skills to maritime archaeologists to work within marine development endeavours, as well as tailored trainings addressed to private companies and concerned administrations to ensure heritage preservation and data sharing were deemed urgent.

The organization of the Policy Forum evidenced the need to increase cooperation and awareness with the marine development sector. The fact that main development companies (i.e. Shell, BP, or TOTAL) showed interest but did not eventually attend, shows how important it is to develop innovative strategies to build up dialogue and create awareness. The need to address companies through national policies and administrations through compulsory awareness workshops and the development of heritage impact assessments, was one of the main points suggested.

As in the previous HFF Policy Fora, a consensus document will be drafted and then shared with all participants. This document will guide the future actions and recommendations to lead stakeholders in the better cooperation, dialogue and synergies between the MCH sector and Development. It was recommended that a specific HFF Publication regarding standards and guidelines to preserve marine cultural heritage in the period of Blue Economy is developed.

Original published on the Honor Frost Foundation website.