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Recovery
Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
May 2004

Underwater patrimony:
Under the sea

The rescue and promotion of Valparaiso's bay huge underwater patrimony, the first underwater road at Robinson Crusoe island, and a University project that is now investigating an 18th Century Spanish ship wrecked near Mejillones, are part of the search for a forgotten part of our history, the one hidden in the depths of the ocean.

By Rosario Mena


Valparaiso is our Cultural Capital and part of UNESCO's Humankind's Heritage. But its merits go way under the sea, where a huge underwater treasure lies un-rescued, with no protection, part of a testimony of the more than 500 shipwrecks registered at the bay between the 16th and 20th centuries.

A group of Chilean and French archeologists is now workging at the bay, and has already identified 60 shipwrecks. The project is dedicated to register and clasify the submerged patrimony between Abrigo and Yoland. The idea is not to alter whatever is found, nor manipulate or extract it. This means scientific information which should be kept reserved for now, so to not promote looting.

To obtain pieces of wrecked ships or port installations can be done through diving, and sold among collectors. There is a legal gap that allows lucre, since there is a contradiction between the law that has to do with the sea field and that related to monuments. All the pieces of more than fifty years of age that are found on Chile's territorial sea and interior waters are considered to be a historical monument.


Robinson Crusoe island: underwater road
The community at the Juan Fernandez archipelago is now promoting the construction of the first underwater road ("Sendero de Chile") at the area known as El Adriático in the Robinson Crusoe island. The road would have an average depth of 19 meters, and would promote the zone's main tourist focus: its acuatic fauna, with lobsters, black sea urchin, sea stars, brecas, pampanitos, the "scorpion-fish" and "meros", among other species.

The whole "Sendero de Chile" will conect our country by the mountains, from Visviri in the north to Tierra del Fuego at the south. 17 sections are already open, all through 500 kilómetros. Some of the project's main objectives are to connect private and public institutions, gather the participation of local population, valuing their systems and traditions. When ready, it will be one of the world's main trekking routes.


Mejillones: the story of a shipwreck
Built in 1747, the San Martin ship (aka "the happy one") wrecked at the Mejillones bay during the winter of 1759, when heading to Spain by the south Pacific. More than two centuries after its accident, a group of archeologists from SEK University is working on a scientific study that may allow us to know its story.

The ship had gone through a complicated journey around the Cabo de Hornos, and it got to Concepcion in 1757 from Cadiz, Spain. Its bad constitution made it ran aground at the Mejillones bay. All passengers were safely rescued. What SEK University is now looking for is to conservate and promote this valuable heritage.


Talcahuano: underwater museum
All through 25 years, Chilean seamen could sail on the O'Briend submarine, its name taken from the first submarine (which, in 1931, crossed the Cabo de Hornos). Since the year 2001, the ship is out of service, kept under the care of the Talcahuano Army, waiting to become part of a new Museum that will open for our Republic's Bicentennial.

Retired submarinists from the Army first came with the idea of building South America's first underwater museum. The project is supported by Biobío's regional government, as part of the "Sea window" project developed by the port company Talcahuano-San Vicente. The investment will be of around $200 million (US$300,000 dollars) and it would help promote the zone's marine patrimony. Besides the submarine, it will also include the peruvian ship Huáscar, famous for its combat against the Chilean Esmeralda in Iquique.

The definite placing of the museum would be at a rocky zone around Talcahuano. The idea is to also have a special building for people to ask for information. The Biobio regional government will finance some basic mantainance work for the submarine, and the Army will help with its installation.


 
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