The Project


We are a group of maritime archaeology trained divers who are undertaking research on Hong Kong's underwater heritage. As long-term residents of Hong Kong who treasure its unique culture and identity, we believe there is great historic value and benefit in the range of underwater sites and associated stories that can be passed on to our community. In this regard, we are fortunate to have gained the support of The Lord Wilson Heritage Trust, who have provided funding for our work. We are currently conducting the first stage of the project in our own spare time.


Our aim is to implement research and promote the value and preservation of Hong Kong’s underwater heritage. Hong Kong’s history and many of its people have strong links to the sea, and this connection can be found in some of the underwater heritage sites and their histories. We think much work can be done, and have identified a number of stages in realising this heritage. As part of a first stage project, we will compile a interactive underwater heritage database through analysing existing databases and gaining contributions from people in Hong Kong. Surveys will be implemented on some of the sites and all the results will be published with due credit to those who have helped us. The project will also include the documentation of histories and folklores passed down through the generations. Given that our ultimate goal is to promote the preservation and conservation of Hong Kong’s underwater heritage, we will convey this through the development of a website, production of a brochure and publication of a book.


As there is no underwater archaeological sites database available in Hong Kong, we will begin the work of compiling one through analysing and consolidating data for almost 300 Hong Kong sites in a wrecks database from the United Kingdom’s Hydrographic Office (UKHO). We will also investigate literature, old maps and newspapers, and will seek knowledge about other sites of archaeological interest from divers and members of the community, as well as through interviews with government representatives and scholars of the field. All these sites will be catalogued and presented as a spatial database, using acquired digital maps.

Based on the above research, we will select at least two (more if practical) underwater heritage sites on which to conduct non-disturbance surveys - a shipwreck site and a non-shipwreck site, two main underwater site types in the HKSAR. The surveys will document the nature, extent and condition of the archaeological remains, which will help describe the sites to readers (researchers, the community, industry and government) and provide for a better understanding of their value and need for site preservation and further research.

A licence from the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) has been obtained to conduct this survey, and Dr Jeffery will lead the fieldwork, which is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2010.


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.