Kenya is building the first underwater museum in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Tourism Update, a 504-year-old Portuguese shipwreck off the coast of Ras Ngomeni, Kilifi County, will be the museum’s site.
The Kenyan government has approved the adoption of the convention giving way for the National Museum of Kenya (NMK) and other stakeholders to hasten the tapping of maritime and underwater cultural heritage sites to benefitCoastal communities and the country at large.
After Kenya ratifies the convention, it will set basic principles for protecting underwater cultural heritage and rules for research.
Madagascar is the only country in eastern Africa that has ratified the Unesco convention. NMK has identified Ras Ngomeni in Kilifi County and the wreck of a Portuguese ship that sank in 1516 —one of the oldest — as the first site for an underwater museum to be built by 2022.
Other 30 shipwrecks identified in the country’s Indian Ocean, will be developed later, with some dating back to 500 years ago.
The East African Coast has a long history of maritime trade with India, Arabia, Japan, and China in the past 2,000 years.
Mombasa leads the database of shipwrecks with 22, Malindi eight, and Lamu three. Most of these vessels were made of wood and metal parts, but they are still intact because of the conducive underwater environment.
“We have pictures of the sites and have secured the vessels, most of which were used to carry ivory, cinnabar, and copper,” said NMK Head of Archaeology Dr. Caesar Bita.
Underwater museums have grown into major tourist attractions elsewhere, and Kenya now wants to tap into unexplored treasures.
Dr. Bita said people tend to associate maritime and underwater cultural heritage with only shipwrecks. Still, there is a diverse offering such as ancient ruins and their boat landing sites, ancient ports, sacred sites, and fishing grounds.
The museum will be opened in 2022 and will be constructed by the National Museum of Kenya (NMK) and the government.
Speaking to Tourism Update, Head of Archaeology at the NMK Coast region, Caesar Bita, said: ‘Once the museum is complete, we will have tour guides who will be guiding people under the water. Each wreck will have a placard that tells its history.’
Visitors will be able to study preserved artifacts in the wrecks, human remains, and marine life. The artifacts stand a better chance of preservation while submerged under the ocean instead of being brought onto land. These historical finds are being protected from strong currents by sandbag walls and nets.