Travelling Exhibition: Toxic Legacies of War

The vast North Sea holds an amazing underwater landscape with a unique record of historical relics from the two world wars. Hundreds of war wrecks and their dangerous cargo litter the seabed today, and munition still leaking toxic substances pose an insidious threat to the marine environment.

In our North Sea Wrecks project, we are investigating these hazards to understand the potential risks better. The project, which is supported by the European Union, set up an efficient network, a decision support tool based on case studies, a risk assessment methodology and policy recommendations. It connects 9 scientific and research institutions from 5 European Countries and is led by the German Maritime Museum, Leibniz Museum for Maritime History.

Take a tour of our exhibition Toxic Legacies of War: North Sea Wrecks and join us on a dive to the wrecks!


The TravEx was structured in following Stations: 


A ship is sunk during World War II © Photo Archive, German Maritime Museum

Station 1

Yhe legacy of two world wars

Decades on from the wars of the 20th century, munitions are still being found and defused on land. But what is the situation at sea?

Find out more about how they have affected the North Sea here!


Scientific diver above ammunition in the Baltic Sea’s Kolberger Heide munition dump site © Jana Ulrich, GEOMAR

Station 2

The hazards of war remnants

Munitions are dangerous – and not just at the moment they explode or are fired. Even when resting on the seabed, their toxic contents can leak out and contaminate the water.

Learn more about these hazards!

undefinedPhilipp Grassel and Cornelia Riml researching historic naval maps in the archive of the German Maritime Museum © Cornelia Riml, German Maritime Museum

Station 3

Research: From archive to wreck site

The journey to a North Sea wreck is a tortuous one, involving archive research, the planning of expeditions on research vessels and the coordination of divers.

Find out more about the individual aspects of our research here.

undefinedCorroded artillery shell with visible explosives and young mussels © Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt (FFI) - Norwegian Defence Research Establishment

Station 4

Hazards in mussels

What happens when explosive material does not explode but is dumped at sea instead? As the munitions corrode, it will seep into the water. What impact does that have on the marine environment and the creatures living there?

Find out here!


Data correlation in the WRECKNS software © GmbH

Station 5

WRECKNS - Risk assessment tool

There are many wrecks in the North Sea. But what risk do they pose? To determine this, we need a precise risk assessment.

Find out here how we do it!


Sonar image of a cargo ship loaded with ammunition that sunk in the Skagerrak strait. © Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt (FFI) Norwegian Defence Research Establishment

Station 6

New recommendations

Who is responsible for war wrecks and munitions dumped in the North Sea? Scientists from the North Sea Wrecks project have been exploring this question and are working up new recommended actions.

Find out here what we do!


Nine partners from five different countries are working together in the Interreg project North Sea Wrecks. © simple GmbH


Station 7


Seas do not recognise borders – neither marine species nor hazardous substances respect such boundaries. That is why the North Sea Wrecks project takes a transnational approach.

Find out more!


Marine munitions worldwide © GmbH, Simon van der Wulp


Station 8

Marine Conservation

Military relics such as wrecks and munitions threaten the health of the North Sea. Other marine regions are affected too, though, and further challenges lie ahead.


Find out here what we do!


Selected wreck sites for surveys in the NSW Project as of June 2021 © GmbH, Simon van der Wulp

Station 9

Research Cruises and selected wrecks

Given that the North Sea is extensively littered with wrecks, we must select some identified war wrecks as case studies for the project. We plan to visit these wrecks during the research cruises. As the project is still ongoing, the possible wreck sites worthy of sampling have not all been selected nor are all the already chosen sites fully researched. So additional research cruises will happen. If you like to know more about the research methods, please see Station 3.

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