The Challenges

Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar are among the least developed countries in the world and the most vulnerable to the impacts of geopolitical turmoil and environmental change. They are also the focus of global resource exploitation: major off-shore oil and gas discoveries are driving international investment, as is the development of super ports to facilitate maritime trade. While port construction and offshore exploration for oil and gas deposits are bringing economic benefits to East Africa, these developments, along with activities such as underwater cabling, dredging, laying pipelines and underwater mining are threatening the region’s rich submerged and coastal MCH – the latter already at risk from sea level change. In addition while donor countries and investors profit from such developments it is less clear how much of this profit trickles down to local communities particularly those most at risk. Coastal communities in the region already face challenges caused by coastal erosion, dwindling fish resources and unsustainable fishing practices – infrastructure developments can acerbate these problems from increasing coastal erosion to developers grabbing land and forcing people to move. The fast pace of this change risks exposing already vulnerable coastal groups to greater risks of exploitation (e.g. from low-pay to modern slavery) and insecurity (climate, food, shelter, land).

Development agreements rarely take account of cultural heritage even though access to it is considered a fundamental human right, and the potential value of cultural heritage for promoting sustainable, resilient societies is increasingly recognized globally. The role MCH could play in development aid success (and the success of private instruments for development) particularly in relation to coastal infrastructure and offshore extraction projects has not yet been realised and research in this area is lacking.

Climate and environment changes through increased storm activity and changing sea levels are also having a dramatic impact on coastal and maritime sites in East Africa while protection projects and adaptation strategies are often further compounding the issues due to a lack of historical baseline data. The broader geopolitical and economic landscape does not bode well for the future protection and enhancement of the coastal and maritime resource.

ODA recipient countries such as those in East Africa lack the capacity to properly emphasise the contribution to development that can be made by the protection and promotion of cultural rights. These issues – the importance of heritage for cultural and economic development, and the need for capacity building – are particularly relevant in the context of East Africa’s MCH.

It is the main contention of the Rising from the Depths network that MCH has an important but so far completely unappreciated role to play in the long term sustainability and ultimately the success of coastal and marine development. We aim to communicate the significance of MCH from the bottom up and the top down – from the grassroots through work directly with local groups to effect community level change while at the same time engage at the national government and international level through considering relevant development law and policies.

We want to fund projects that will fill knowledge gaps that currently limit the way that Marine Cultural Heritage (MCH) contributes to culturally and economically sustainable growth in East Africa, delivering impacts across three primary stakeholder groups – local communities, industry and policy. Projects should engage and include stakeholders from one or more of these three areas: community, policy and industry.

Diagram showing the intersection of challenges the network is addressing

The diagram above illustrates how the three challenge areas can be connected by MCH. Heritage using the sea as a connector can unite a range of approaches. Activities such as conservation work, development infrastructure work, sustainable fishing initiatives, legal tradition can be linked and given context by heritage – these are practices carried out by people and heritage can inform this practice.


Engagement: Local communities across East Africa are struggling to retain their sense of community and cultural identities as society undergoes rapid change associated with globalisation, development and disparity. These changes are contributing to their lack of ‘voice’ in important economic and cultural decisions affecting their lives and often undermining the intrinsic sustainability of these groups. Cultural heritage plays a vital role in redressing this, supporting individuals and communities to convey identities and values, foster social inclusion and sense of belonging.

Education: Projects should promote free and lifelong access to education). All of the projects funded by the network will contribute content to the UCH Usable Past Platform to promote a better understanding of MCH to better inform the future.

Skills, storytelling and museums: it is one thing to recognise that access to cultural heritage is a right but being able to exercise that right is another issue and we are fully aware that there are complex social and economic barriers to particular communities being able to engage with heritage. We are interested in projects that look at local methods of engagement and storytelling to reach communities which so far have had little opportunity to engage with their heritage.


Aid and Management Strategies: MCH is not currently part of the international, national or local development policy landscape, leading to environmental degradation and economic under use. Developmental aid and investment policies, as well as cultural heritage and coastal management approaches, need to avoid violations of the economic, social and cultural rights of vulnerable communities if they are to be successful. Development aid projects should be integrated and coherent with the past and present history of the local communities they impact upon – inclusive of the needs, expectations, and challenges faced by all groups within the those communities (including all genders and minority groups). In coastal developments an awareness of MCH can play an important role in issues related to identity and sense of place as well as providing usable data how to better prevent and manage environmental risks.

Heritage protection: The network will examine the effectiveness of national and international heritage policies in each country to protect MCH. For example the project supports the sustainable development and preservation of maritime sites in line with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001) directly linking submerged sites with the coastal terrestrial resource. By taking this more holistic view of MCH (coastal and submerged) we wish to underscore the economic potential of the resource and encourage Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique to follow Madagascar and ratify the Convention.


Offshore: Developing the seabed in a way that facilitates the research of MCH (particularly submerged landscapes) depends on the collaboration between academia and industry, where MCH is seen as an asset to development and national identity rather than an obstacle. Though marine industries are becoming regulated under national and international frameworks, cultural sites need better monitoring, documentation and enhancement by local stakeholders. By employing the leading-edge technologies used by the offshore marine industry there is genuine potential not just to develop MCH professional capacity in East African countries but for them to become world leaders in the subject. Information about fragile heritage on the seabed is also needed in planning other marine activities such as cabling, dredging, fish farming, extracting gravel, laying pipelines, and renewable energy platform building.

Professional archaeology: As development increases in East Africa there is a growing need for archaeology and heritage professionals as a burgeoning consultancy industry begins to grow in the region.

Fishing industry: As fishing practices become unsustainable, finding new sources of income for coastal communities is an emerging priority.

Heritage Tourism: Tourism is one of the strongest drivers of world trade and a major tool for poverty alleviation. As a labour-intensive sector it has a positive impact on low-income and disadvantaged groups who form a crucial part of the tourism supply chain, and accounts for a significant part of the GDP of East African states. However, to date, the coastal tourism of these countries has been entirely based around natural resources such as wildlife and coral reefs: MCH as a resource has been underdeveloped and undervalued.