Underwater Cultural Heritage As A Potential Environmental Time Bomb
Posted by Mark Spalding in Ocean Views on October 6, 2014
In the area known as the Pacific theater of World War II, there are about “3800 underwater wrecksundefinedsubmarines, airplanes, ship, and other remnants of hard fought battles. And, that war produced 7800 such wrecks worldwide from all of the participating nations. Beyond their solemn history (and possible continuing service as watery human gravesites), there are emerging issues that need to be addressed for the health of our ocean today. These World War II shipwrecks account for 75% of the known sporadic or continuous leakages of oil and other hazardous materials from vessels on the seafloor. And, it is said that all of the World War II and other wrecks in the ocean may contain as much as 140 million barrels of oil. As conservationists we want to look proactively at preventing catastrophic oil spills from potentially polluting shipwrecks. We are certain that the risk is growing yearly, as are the potential costs from harm that may result.
Sixty years later, we are particularly concerned that these wrecks are experiencing metal fatigue, failure and collapse, resulting in leakage of oil, fuel, unexploded ordnance, and toxic chemicals. There are many observed causes for the weakening of these vessels that include corrosion, storm damage, harm from dynamite fishing, damage from anchors and bottom trawling gear, earthquakes, looting (treasure hunting), as well as intrusive exploration of the underwater cultural heritage (by well meaning archeologists). Obviously, numerous sites have experienced more than one of these. In the event of a serious leak from these vessels, we can expect habitat damage at the site, as well as for all the surrounding ecosystems including reefs, beaches, mangroves, and nearshore watersundefinedwhich in turn may harm the plants and animals that live there.