Shipwrecks in the Belgian part of the North Sea will be protected as cultural heritage, and the country aims to have a new map intended to help divers explore them by this summer.
Over 55 wrecks were investigated in the last year, and the results of those explorations will be converted into both a public exhibition and a digital map that will allow the general public to learn more about them.
“The wrecks in the North Sea are an important part of our heritage,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the North Sea, Vincent Van Quickenborne, in a press release.
“Due to the extensive research that has been done on them, they are now revealing their secrets. We now have a much better view of the history, condition and ecological value of the oldest wrecks.”
There are estimated to be around 280 shipwrecks in the Belgian part of the North Sea, with two thirds of them dating back to the First and Second World Wars.
The ships represent around 17 different countries. The ones of Belgian origin are mainly fishing vessels.
While shipwrecks make for excellent dive sites and provide important shelter for various fish and flora, not all are in equally good condition and many are at risk of being damaged or looted.
Back in 2018, Belgium learned that ships under foreign flags were seeking out the wrecks in its part of the North Sea in order to collect copper from them, which prompted the country to take protective steps.
The investigation and mapping of the wrecks was key to that process.
Scientists from the Flemish Institute for the Sea and Immovable Heritage (VLIZ) spent over a year studying and mapping 55 wrecks older than 100 years in order to make the map and set up the exhibition.
“This way we know which protective measures we need to take to preserve them properly,” said Van Quickenborne. “And in this way we can also share the richness of our North Sea heritage with everyone.”