Case Studies

Threats to our Ocean Heritage

Disseminating evidence of the threats from trawl fishing, potentially polluting historic wrecks, and deep-sea mining

Grant Awarded: £413,000

Timeframe: 2023-2025



Invasive practices and increased effects of climate change that disturb and damage Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) accelerate its deterioration and increase the risks for the coastal communities. 

Threats to our Ocean Heritage is a project developed in collaboration with The Ocean Foundation, an NGO dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments, and will bring together evidence of the threats from trawl fishing, potentially polluting historic wrecks and deep-sea mining, engaging international stakeholders that can affect urgent change. The Ocean Foundation will convene experts to develop standards to address the threats, including developing a global framework for intervention on Potentially Polluting Wrecks (PPWs).

There is a time-limited conjunction of threat and opportunity. Never has UCH been under greater threat from industrial activity and the adverse effects of accelerating climate change. Equally, the launch of the UN Decade of Ocean Science and the agreement on the High Seas treaty means that there has never been a better opportunity to define and promote the standard and protocols required to deal with the urgent threats and safety challenges.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation Ocean Safety Foresight Review stresses the need for vastly increased effort around purposeful marine data collection and supports the UN Global Compact sustainable ocean principles calling for interventions to stimulate sharing of relevant scientific data. This project is an opportunity to unite cultural and scientific data to effect real change.


Threats to our Ocean Heritage aims to broaden ocean literacy on complex topics across a wide range of stakeholders. Three peer-reviewed open-access books on the threats to UCH posed by trawling, deep seabed mining and PPWs are being developed as part of the project. The first book on Bottom Trawling was released as an open access publication by SpringerBriefs in Archaeology in May 2024 and can be accessed here. The volume brings together case studies from specialists that cover a broad geographic range; provides a comprehensive review of the damages to ocean heritage, both natural and cultural, from bottom trawling; and suggests steps to mitigate the impacts on heritage from bottom trawling.

At the June 2023 Meeting of State Parties (UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage), the need to integrate natural heritage in the work around UCH and the threat represented by PPWs was emphasised. Policymakers, maritime leaders and stakeholders are being encouraged to engage with these complex challenges at international level.

The project is developing a global network of experts to deliver authoritative input to global ocean stewardship campaigns and provide a source of ongoing advice to regional and national authorities and changemakers. An initial workshop is planned for March 2024, focusing on governmental and policy features.