About the project

The Baltic Sea is a brackish marine environment containing a unique and well preserved collection of shipwrecks, archaeological settlements, and other coastal maritime constructions. In total 8 EU countries share this exclusive archive of historical and archaeological information from the past.  Today it is estimated that there are up to 100,000 shipwrecks in the Baltic, of which at least 6000 are deemed of significant archaeological and historical significance.


Wood was one of the most common materials used for the construction of these artefacts in the past and the Baltic Sea, with its low salinity, has afforded a “natural” protection of the underwater cultural heritage for centuries. Here, biological degradation has proceeded very slowly, mainly due to the absence of wood boring organisms, which demand a higher level of salinity for activity. The very aggressive marine borers, the Teredo spp also called shipworm, can normally destroy wooden material exposed to seawater within a very short period of time; years or even months. As a result of this, the Baltic Sea is one of the few waters in the world where historic shipwrecks and other constructions are found completely intact and provide an unprecedented resource for historical research. However, there are clear signs that there is a gradual ingress of wood boring organisms (TeredoNavalis) into the Baltic; probably as a result of climate change and notably an increase in salinity. The coastal waters of eastern Denmark are the gateway to the Baltic and an increased activity of shipworm has been observed in the past decades. Furthermore, one of the results of the EU funded MoSS project on the monitoring, safeguarding and visualising of shipwrecks in European waters  (http://www.mossproject.com/) showed that shipworm were active in the coastal waters of northern Germany. Their growth and spread have also had commercial implications with harbour renovations in Mecklenbrug-Vorpommern, costing almost 15 million Euros in 2000 – 2001. To this end, commercial stakeholders such as harbour and shipping companies in Denmark have by and large opted to avoid the use of wood in future maritime constructions or renovations in the Baltic. However, this is not a viable option when it comes to the underwater cultural heritage.


International legislation, notably the UNESCO treaty for the Protection of the underwater Cultural Heritage (2001) advocates a strategy of preserving this heritage in situ where possible. In part this is due to the enormous extent of the resource. Furthermore it is financially prohibitive to excavate, conserve and curate all these finds. Typically a single wreck, dependent on size, currently costs about 500,000 EUR – 4,000,000 EUR to conserve and this does not include the cost of the museum facilities needed for exhibition, storage and curation. Excavation, conservation and curation is not a realistic option for all these finds, yet as part of the underwater cultural resource, techniques to manage them should be implemented. If this problem is not addressed, a unique European cultural resource is at imminent risk of being lost, when with research some of these sites may be saved for future generations.  It is most likely that the ongoing climatic changes will promote the future spread of Teredo spp into larger areas of the Baltic. A strategy to handle this alarming scenario, is to provide the museums and conservators responsible for the long term preservation of the underwater cultural heritage with tools for assessing and, potentially, predicting the threat of the spread of marine borers. Furthermore, to find reliable and robust methods for their protection in situ, before the threat of degradation is established.  The main objective of WreckProtect is to secure the preservation of two important objects of cultural heritage in marine environments:


1. Shipwreck

2. Submerged archaeological settlements