The coastal and seafaring activity in and around Hong Kong that dates back 6,000 years through to the present day means that there are potentially many types of significant underwater heritage sites located in its waters. There has been no coordinated effort in researching and documenting these sites, and this project is seen as a first step to put this in action.



Potential sites
Evidence of early human settlement in Hong Kong and the exploitation of its marine resources can be seen in the middle Neolithic to Bronze Age sites (c. 6,000 - 3,200 years ago) located around the coastline, and some artefacts related to these people have been observed underwater. At around 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty, people came from the mainland and settled in Hong Kong; Han coins have been found in addition to a tomb in Kowloon.

The potential for finding early trading vessels in Hong Kong waters is linked to its proximity to the Pearl River and Guangzhou. From the seventh century AD, large numbers of Arab, Persian and Indian traders sailed to Guangzhou and stayed there; the main trade item was Chinese porcelain. Chinese vessels were also involved in the regional and international trade from the eighth century onwards, frequently reaching as far as the east coast of Africa. This trade, and the development of other trades, such as tea, continue to this day, and involve many nations. During the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, battles were fought, forts were built and ships were sunk during Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British competition in these trades, culminating in the Opium Wars and subsequently the annexation of Hong Kong to the British (1842) and Macau to the Portuguese (1849).

Some shipwrecks related to the trades have been found in a number of countries along the long trade routes, including Chinese ships in the South China Sea, such as the recently found 800-year-old Nanhai No. 1 shipwreck located off Yangjiang, 200 km south west of Hong Kong.





Protective legislation
Other earlier found shipwrecks, such as the Vasa in Sweden, Mary Rose in England, Titanic (off Canada) and the 3000-year-old shipwreck off Uluburun, Turkey, in addition to those salvaged for their commercial, rather than archaeological gain, have seen protective legislation and active underwater cultural heritage programs developed across the world to manage sites for their value to the community as a whole. This has developed to the point where there is now international law: the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001 that provides the broad framework for the principles and practices of protecting and managing all types of underwater cultural heritage sites and prohibits their commercial exploitation.

The Hong Kong government has legislation that protects underwater cultural heritage sites in its waters. Offshore development requires an Environmental Impact Assessment to comprehensively assess the development area for any underwater cultural heritage sites prior to any work, and to take steps to minimise damage to sites considered significant.