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Africa: To Honor Slave Trade Victims, a Memorial in the Depths of the Atlantic

New York — A virtual memorial to victims of the slave trade could be created along ribbons of deep seabed in the Atlantic Ocean

Tributes to victims of the transatlantic slave trade can be found in museums and through statues, but a new proposal is calling for a memorial that can neither be visited nor even seen.

A virtual memorial of ribbons on maps of the Atlantic deep seabed could honor the estimated 1.8 million Africans who died at sea during the trans-oceanic slave trade, said a proposal published this month in the Journal of Marine Policy.

“It would be on a map … they can’t visit it,” said Phillip Turner, a science policy consultant who worked on the paper as a doctoral student at Duke University in North Carolina.

“It’s more about education about the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The slave trade pathways would be marked on maps and charts drawn by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the United Nations body that oversees mineral activity on seabeds outside of national jurisdictions.

The proposal comes as the world grapples with race after George Floyd, an unarmed Black American, died in police custody in May. His death sparked worldwide protests and triggered a re-evaluation of the legacy of slavery and racism.

As protesters worldwide fell monuments honoring slave owners, Confederates and disgraced white leaders of decades past, their downfall opens a debate over who should rise up to take their place.

“What the tragedy of what happened to George Floyd has done is to really amplify the discussion,” said Ambassador Michael Kanu, Deputy Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, who co-authored the paper.

“It’s all part of the quest for justice,” he said in an interview, adding he hoped West African nations could put the proposal before the ISA some time next year.