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Underwater ‘Living Museum’ Opens in the Dominican Republic

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With an eye on the prize of protecting and preserving historic shipwrecks and their coastal environments, researchers at the Bloomington, IN-based Indiana University (IU) Center for Underwater Science in partnership with the government of the Dominican Republic, opened their fifth ‘Living Museum in the Sea’ on the island in December. 

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Underwater Living Museum in Dominican Republic
Underwater Living Museum in Dominican Republic

“The Living Museums in the Sea model provides a sustainable alternative to treasure hunting,” according to Charles Beeker, the Center’s director and a clinical professor of kinesiology at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington. “We researched the 1725 Begoña — a Spanish merchant vessel that sank in the early 18th century — for several years, with recovered diagnostic artifacts conserved and interpreted for display in the Atarazanas Museum, the Dominican Republic’s national maritime museum in the UNESCO World Heritage site Colonial Zone. However, the primary mission is on-site preservation and creation of an underwater exhibit, protected for this and future generations. Treasure hunters can only sell it once, but with the living museum model, we can sell history forever.”

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This newest Living Museum in the Sea, the 1725 Nuestra Señora de Begoña, is located in the already protected waters of La Caleta Underwater National Park along the country’s southern coast. The underwater museums are open to the public and must be accessed by snorkeling or scuba diving. 

Beeker and his research team will return to the Dominican Republic later this year to create a 3D photogrammetric rendering of the Nuestra Señora de Begoña, which will help in the long-term monitoring and management of the new museum. This work is part of 25 years of ongoing IU research and excavations on the island, with the goal of discovering one or more of the vessels associated with Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the Americas. underwaterscience.indiana.edu

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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