Culture Minister all for underwater heritage
During Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Co-operation, debate on the Maritime Zone Bill 2009, opened with comments by the subject Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett.
The Bill was given much support by Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr Frank Anthony, who made his focus on the section of the proposed legislation that deals with the maritime/submerged cultural heritage issues.
Dr Anthony in his presentation to the debate questioned, “How do we, as a nation, manage the cultural resources that exist below the high water marks of the Atlantic Ocean?”
This question, he said, would raise much skepticism, as most would ask whether or not Guyana has underwater heritage.
Dr Anthony opined that most people would associate underwater heritage with legends of Atlantis, or the Pharaohs, the famous Alexandria lighthouse (one of the Wonders of the Ancient World).
According to Dr Anthony, even though Guyana does not have such famous sites, the country is still filled with underwater heritage that has largely been underestimated and underappreciated.
The Sports Minister told the National Assembly, “Over the years, the low level of the coastal zone has resulted in the inundation of numerous archeological sites, sacred sites, communities, transportation features, buildings, and structures associated with the drainage and irrigation infrastructure” adding that many submerged cultural resources become exposed at low tides.
Anthony is of the view that the heritage resources are non-renewable and are “at risk of all sorts of impacts,” and that once these resources are destroyed, a part of the nation’s heritage is lost forever.
He made mention of former wards that have been swallowed up by the sea in the 18th and 19th Centuries, such as old Eve Leary, Plantations Sandy Point and Keirfield of Kingston and Fort Le Dauphin.
The government’s goal is to preserve the important windows of the past and provide access and recreational opportunities to them.
He further made mention of some famous incidences that occurred off of Guyana’s coasts, such as a naval confrontation between the H.M.S. Peacock and an American frigate Hornet, off the coast of Mahaica, in which the H.M.S. Peacock was lost in that battle.
Staying along the lines of famous incidences occurring in Guyana waters, Anthony spoke of the discovery of a cargo ship that The Daily Telegraph in the UK reported, and claimed to be a British ship (the Blue Baron), which was sunk by a Nazi submarine while laden with £2.6 billion in cargo that included gold, platinum and diamonds.
Dr Anthony said that relevant legislative steps should be taken to protect this substantial underwater heritage from looters, salvagers and profiteers; some of which are becoming widely accessible and vulnerable to exploitation.
Anthony believes that the remnants of our heritage may remain in the depths of waters for a long time, but have in recent times been raided by divers and treasure hunters, national and/or foreign who are unable to understand and appreciate the consequences of their actions.
“As a government, the access we provide to, and make recreational use of cultural resource sites will be managed through a systematic programme of research, evaluation, documentation, monitoring and stewardship.”