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Tobago underwater heritage threatened
Former curator, National Museum and Art Gallery, Claire Broadbridge believes that the University of Connecticut is being handed carte blanche—the Scarborough Harbour project to chart and possibly recover some of the French, Dutch seventeenth century and British nineteenth century vessels which lie under the silt of the harbour. In a letter, Broadbridge charges that “this country is being once again sold out to foreign domination.”
She states in the letter that “similar projects in Sweden the WASA Flagship of the Swedish King Gustave Adolph’s sunk in the harbour in 1628 and recovered in 1961; the Mary Rose of Henry VIII sunk in Southampton Harbour the recovery and conservation of which is a work in progress.
“These are of less historical significance than the French and Dutch vessels sunk in the harbour of Scarborough. Hoteliers and restaurants in Tobago should note that these have attracted tourists in tens of millions in a continuing basis while Tobago sits doing nothing for the last decade.” Broadbridge noted that the project of locating and charting and partially recovering one of these vessels in Scarborough was completed in 1990 to 1997. “It was directed locally.
All was charted and admiralty maps of the harbour done. Work was halted in order to plan a Caribbean Institute of Marine Archeology within the University of the West Indies Faculty for Social and Economic Research—Such an institute to serve the entire Caribbean would be very prestigious for Tobago. All funds which have to be garnered for this work would be used for the lasting benefit of Tobago not for the lasting benefit for a foreign university.
Also the student and staff of this institute would serve as workers on the project.” She stated that on assuming office, incumbent chairman of the Tobago House of Assembly Orville London chose to halt the project. He even abandoned the satellite components’ of the project—a historic James Park Tourism centre and a living agricultural museum in Roxborough.
“These were an integral part of the Scarborough Harbour Project 1990-2002. These components had been attached to the project in order to geographically distribute the tourist in land from the harbour.” Facilities for conservation at the docks had been planned to be open to immediate tourist viewing, an explanatory exhibit in the cruise ship reception area was designed, artifacts prepared script and audiovisuals created, Broadbridge indicated. The excavation of one vessel was partially done and filmed.
All previous foreign consultants had been hired and paid fees by the local director of the project, she said, while the Coast Guard divers were present during dives and all funding was strictly used for the benefit of Tobago.
Rampersad: UNESCO concerned
Dr Kris Rampersad, chair of the Trinidad and Tobago National Commission for UNESCO, when contacted, confirmed that the Commission was concerned about actions that might endanger these valuable national heritage assets and the lack of understanding and awareness of the issues surrounding protection and development of the heritage assets in the waters of not just Tobago, but also Trinidad.
She said there was a threat that we may be signing away elements without being aware of it. She stated that it is not clear what the arrangement is between the University of Connecticut and the Tobago House of Assembly or any other entity but that in a meeting late last year with the THA, she expressed such concerns and received an open ear from the THA Secretary for Tourism.
Rampersad said, “These are assets that are part of not just the heritage of Trinidad and Tobago but also of the global community given the historical contexts of the development of our islands and there can be some severe international relations repercussions if this is not handled properly.
“We are a long way from developing the mechanisms that will ensure that the benefits are secured for Trinidad and Tobago, among which includes training of nationals and developing the human resource capacity to take care and oversee these assets. UNESCO encourages the development of the national infrastructure.
According to Rampersad, “It is in our interest that our local universities take charge of this, and also in developing the kind of targeted heritage and conservation expertise we need locally for not just underwater, but heritage in general as training courses and programmes seem to lag behind the new developments in the global environment in which we now function.”
In the case of underwater heritage, she said, “it may also be in our best interest to develop dive and underwater museum facilities for these assets as is the current trend, rather than trying to bring up artefacts at tremendous costs of maintain them above ground.” The heritage dive tourism industry is itself a multibillion dollar industry that attracts enthusiasts across the world and can eventually pay for itself in terms of developing the infrastructure and mechanism required.
Rampersad said we also need to put in place proper regulations and legislation that will protect our interests. “It is for us to ensure that our national laws are up to speed to ward off the risk of foreign entities staking ownership claims and other like threats.”
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