Senior Fellows

Ole Varmer

Senior Advisor on Ocean Heritage

Ole Varmer has over 30 years of legal experience in international and United States environmental and historic preservation law.   Most recently, he was the legal expert on the UNESCO team that produced the Evaluation Report of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (2019).  Ole graduated from the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in 1987 with the honor of being the Editor-in-Chief of the International Law Students Association (ILSA) International Law Journal.  He worked for almost 33 years at the Department of Commerce/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration where he developed his expertise in the Law of the Sea, marine environmental law, maritime law and heritage law (natural and cultural). 

For example, Ole represented NOAA on the U.S. Delegation to UNESCO meetings on Underwater Cultural Heritage, Word Heritage, the 1st World Congress on Maritime Heritage and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Committee meetings regarding the Governance of Large Marine Ecosystems. In the 1990s he played a leading role in the multi-lateral negotiation of the International Agreement on Titanic, implementing Guidelines, and legislation. Ole was also the lead attorney in establishing several Marine Protected Areas that protect natural and cultural heritage, including the Florida Keys, Stellwagen Bank, and Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuaries including several cases successfully defending the application of environmental/heritage laws against challenges under the law of salvage.

Ole as the lead NOAA attorney in litigation involving the USS Monitor, and historic shipwrecks in the Florida Keys and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries. Ole has dozens of legal publications concerning the preservation of our cultural and natural heritage. For example, his Underwater Cultural Heritage Law Study is on the UNESCO website and used as a reference tool within governments and academia. A summary of that study, “Closing the Gaps in Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage on the Outer Continental Shelf “ was published in Vol. 33:2 of the Stanford Environmental Law Journal 251 (March 2014). With the legal expert Prof. Mariano Aznar-Gómez, Ole published “The Titanic as Underwater Cultural Heritage: Challenges to its Legal International Protection,” in Vol 44 of the Ocean Development & International Law 96-112; Ole wrote the chapter on U.S Law on UCH in comparative law study entitled put together by the legal expert, Dr. Sarah Dromgoole entitled: The Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage: National Perspectives in Light of the UNESCO Convention 2001(Martinus Nijhoff, 2006). Ole contributed to the UNESCO publication: Underwater Cultural Heritage at Risk with an article on RMS Titanic NESCO/ICOMOS, 2006).

Ole is also a co-author with former Judge of Sherry Hutt, and attorney Caroline Blanco on the Book: Heritage Resources Law: Protecting the Archaeological and Cultural Environment (Wiley, 1999). For additional articles on cultural, natural and World Heritage see list of publication available at Ole was the lead attorney in developing the legal section in the NOAA Risk Assessment for Potentially Polluting Wrecks in U.S. Waters, a report to USCG (May, 2013). He is now a Senior Fellow at The Ocean Foundation assisting in the integration of UCH into the work and mission of that non-profit organization.

Posts by Ole Varmer