30 May 2012

Africa: First Underwater Museums to Be Built in Mombasa

The National Museums of Kenya is in the process of setting up Africa's first underwater museums to study marine life and shipwrecks in the coast region.

Archeological studies have already discovered over 35 ship wrecks in the Coastal line in the Indian Ocean which could be turned into underwater museums. The museums, according to the experts, would not be like the normal museums with buildings but the old shipwrecks that shall be turned to attraction sites where visitors could visit and see them.

Head of Archaeology at the National Museum of Kenya Cesar Bita said because of the heavy costs of setting up the project, they had identified five shipwrecks that would be set up for a start before embarking on the others. Speaking on the phone, he said study and excavation work for the three shipwrecks in Mombasa was complete with all the information gathers and expected the construction work to begin soon adding that the first museums will be ready after two years. "Under water museums are not buildings but entails the development and preparations of shipwrecks that are underwater for people to be able to see," he said.

He said the ships wrecks were spread all over Lamu, Mombasa, Malindi , Watamu and the South coast adding that each individual shipwreck would act as a Museum of its own. Bita said experts would dive under the water and install information and clean the area to ensure safety measures are put in place for those who would tour the museums.

The three Mombasa ship wrecks which would be dealt with first he said were located at Fort Jesus and one near Nyali area in the Indian Ocean. He said the budget for such work was huge and had to be prepared for it to be made public because of the costs of excavation and preparation work. The Head of Archaeology said water archaeology was new in Africa adding that they were working with archaeologists from Thailand, China, the United States to which have similar museums to see it successful.

On the marine life he said areas with shipwrecks usually attracted fish because of the organic matter created by wood that's why there was need to work with the fisheries department to promote cultural heritage. "Under water excavation has not been exploited in the country, its new and will attract researchers, university students and create employment opportunities in the areas," he said

Among the shipwrecks that had been excavated he said showed vessels from Portugal, Germany, Britain, India among other counties which showed the Indian ocean coast's trade links with the far east. He said the East African Coast was a key area for the global network through the ocean which was largely being used by foreigners for trade. Kenya will be one of the very few states in the globe to have underwater museums. Africa does not have such Museums and its only Egypt according to reports that is also conducting studies of underwater museums but has not reached that state.

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