The Baltic Sea offers some very treacherous waters even under the best of circumstances. The price to pay for sailing the Baltic through the millenniums has been high, and traces of those costs are scattered over the bottom.
The value is not measured in money, but in knowledge. Due to extremely favorable conditions, the wrecks and the remains found are virtual time capsules, waiting to tell their stories about people and their way of living in the past, about the countries and the cultures of Europe.
Nowhere else in the world are there as many well preserved wooden wrecks as in the Baltic Sea, and there is much to tell, but for now, we are going to zoom in on Stockholm's archipelago in Sweden. Over 20,000 islands made navigating through these parts extra challenging in times long before the Viking Era.
Through well-kept archives, we have information of over 20,000 wreck site locations in this region. Yet, only a few of them have actually been found and explored by divers. The wrecks are hard to find, even with modern technology. When a new find is presented, it is a big deal and very exciting.
Finding lost history
Strides in new technology have made it easier than ever to find wrecks lost for centuries. Note that I say easier than ever, not easy. Easy it is not, but with a ‘little’ bit of funding, a crew made of the right stuff, lots and lots of time and a pinch of luck, it can and is done. Not too long ago a team of Baltic divers brought attention to some really spectacular and significant finds in the Baltic, among them, the wooden warship Mars, which sank in 1564 (read the story in X-RAY MAG #59). That discovery brought a bit of frenzy to the world.
Researchers and marine archeologists should have a field day, but there is always that tiny little hindrance called money. Excavating something from the bottom of the sea is a costly matter, so the wrecks are protected with a no-dive clause attached to the protection. Now no one can enjoy the wrecks, everything comes to a stand still, and no one is happy. How can we find a solution in which the wrecks can be enjoyed in the mean time?
Nordic Blue Parks
In 2012, museums and cultural and natural heritage authorities in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway partnered up in a pro-ject called Nordic Blue Parks. The aim was to develop a sustainable marine tourism combining outreach with protection. They wanted to do so by opening underwater parks that combined cultural experiences with nature. Through the Blue Parks, all visitors, not only divers, were going to be able to experience even the most fragile shipwrecks. Perhaps tourists could be brought to the wreck sites by boat charter, with ROV (remote operated vehicle) capacity? Or through an interactive museum experience using computer animations? Ideas were tossed around, and tossed away.
Dalarö Shipwreck Preserve
Haninge Kommun, in cooperation with Swedish Maritime Museums (SMM), took the ideas and ran with them. It is 2014, and the first ever Maritime Historical Underwater Shipwreck Preserve is about to open up in the Baltic Sea. Three wrecks have been chosen for the preserve, and there will be possibilities to dive the wrecks as well as opportunities to sign up for the full ROV experience.
It has taken eight years of hard work and the co-operation of the municipal of Haninge Kommun and the Swedish Maritime Museums as well as some private actors that just wanted this to happen, such as myself, to come to this point. The work has been ground breaking, a true learn-as-you-go experience, as nothing like it exists in the world. Anyone, scuba diver or not, can visit the location of the wrecks, and see what is going on in the deep, in real time. (...)
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