Water Survey

Nautical Archaeology Threatened by Trawlers

7 Comments 08 December 2010

Nautical Archaeology Threatened by Trawlers

Fascinating underwater ruins are excavated in various parts of the world by nautical archaeologists. Artifacts, shipwrecks, and ancient iconography leave clues about the social and economic climate of ancient civilizations in these submerged time capsules.

Trawlers, deep sea water fishing boats, are destroying sea beds and disturbing the fragile areas of underwater archeological sites. History and the study of ancient civilizations are at the mercy of unmonitored trawling in deep sea water. Should invaluable underwater findings be sacrificed for the sake of short-term monetary gain of trawling fisherman? What is being done to stop the reckless destruction of nautical archeological sites and iconography?

Dr. Shelley Wachsmann is a nautical archeologist and researcher at the Institute of Nautical Archeology. Wachsmann was an inspector of underwater antiquities in Israel for ten years. In 1986, Wachsmann excavated a 2000 year-old boat in the Sea of Galilee. “The Sea of Galilee Boat was probably my most significant find and revealed clues about the economic times of Jesus” said Wachsmann in an interview.

Wachsmann discussed the significance of nautical archeology work and the deleterious consequences of trawling with WaterWideWeb. Please read our interview below.

EAB: How is NA important to scholarship and social advancement in the present day?

SW: Everything humans have ever made or built was transported by ship, including the pyramids. Every ship tells a story and we have a finite number of ships. It’s not like whales where if you don’t kill them, they multiply.

EAB: Why is the study of shipwrecks still important?

SW: Shipwrecks are important because in any given society, a ship is the most developed or technological advanced piece of equipment that the society has. Even today, our most technologically advanced invention is the space shuttle, which is just another form of a ship. By studying ships you’re studying cultures, how the ships were built, and the different attitudes of the societies building them.

EAB: What sorts of artifacts are excavated at an underwater archeological site?

SW: Most bronze statues come from the sea because a majority of bronze statues on land were melted and used for other things. Keep in mind that NA is not just shipwrecks, but also iconography. Iconography gives us information that we can’t get from shipwrecks themselves.

Any ship that sinks with a cargo teaches unbelievable things about the time period that it came from and what was happening then. Everything is a miniature Pompeii in a sense. In a shipwreck, everything went down at one time. Excavating on land is not the same, artifacts from the same time period may not be found at the same level.

EAB: You mentioned that trawling is a major concern for nautical archeologist. What are countries and governments doing to address this environmental and archeological concern?

SW: Nets from trawlers weigh tons and wheels just drag along the sea bed. Trawling is an archeologically and environmental issue. Trawlers are even venturing into deep waters. Some are going as far down as 1,000 meters now. Trawling absolutely destroys the seabed.

EAB: How should we respond to trawling in deep sea waters?

SW: This is something that needs to be addressed. There are a finite number of ancient shipwrecks. Trawling is one of the problems that we are now dealing with deep water. We’re realizing what trawlers are actually doing. Treasure hunters aren’t off the hook. But, there is another dimension to the disturbance of underwater excavation work.  I work in the Mediterrenean. This is a real scourge. And the Mediterranean has some of the most interesting shipwrecks in the world.

EAB: How are countries and governments responding to this issue of trawling?

SW: Every country has its own law. In Israel, all laws that apply to land apply to the sea also. That’s the way that they’re protecting things in Israel.

EAB: So how can nautical archeologists and other interested individuals lobby for action against trawling and other threats to underwater ruins?

SW: A lot of sites, particularly in deep water, have yet to be discovered. We simply don’t know where some of these sites are. How can we fight to protect sites that we can’t confirm are there or not? We’re at the point of deep water of just beginning to learn what’s out there. You can’t protect areas that you don’t know exist.

EAB: Thank you for taking time to interview with WaterWideWeb.org

SW: You’re welcome.

Trawling is a major archeological and environmental concern. Government officials in the international community have deliberated public policies to address the negative effects of trawling.

How are industry experts and professionals collaborating to protect underwater sea beds? What can people do to stop trawlers from destroying underwater ruins and decimating underwater ecosystems?

Please stay tuned for future posts in this series as WaterWideWeb.org brings readers answers from the experts.

Do you think governments should institute anti-trawling policies to protect underwater environments and archeological sites?

Why or Why Not?

How should trawlers be held accountable for responsible fishing practices that don’t interfere with other projects in deep waters?

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