A Cultural Landscape Approach

Half Moon Bay Lighthouse
Lighthouse - Half Moon Bay, CA

In MPA planning and management, cultural resources are often undervalued, misinterpreted, or entirely overlooked. However, cultural resources and the cultural heritage they embody offer dynamic opportunities for improving outcomes in nearly every MPA. The National System of Marine Protected Areas is comprised of hundreds of coastal and marine places that particular groups of people have identified as important and worthy of special management and enhanced protection. MPAs are designated for many different reasons. Whether preserving fish stocks, saving habitat, or protecting archaeological sites, MPAs themselves in the National System are a new facet in the cultural heritage of a nation committed to maintaining and improving the its human connections with the marine environment.

This toolkit is designed to help change MPA manager perceptions of cultural heritage and resources. These tools will help managers and others engaged with MPAs to better understand and meet their legal obligations under federal law and to embrace new cultural heritage-based opportunities for achieving and maintaining successful MPAs.

One Place – Many Values

sea turtle at dry tortugas
Sea turtle at Dry Tortugas

Sites selected as MPAs have often been important to people for decades, centuries, or even millennia. The biological richness or other location attributes made them essential to different cultures and many stakeholder groups. Cultural heritage and resources reflect long-term and contemporary human connections and uses of marine areas. In revealing our common dependence on marine places, cultural heritage also reveals individual connections to specific cultures, peoples, and places. The integration of cultural and natural heritage creates opportunities to recognize and value cultural and social differences, while embracing a common vision of stewardship for the marine environment.

Meeting Obligations

Identifying and protecting particular kinds of cultural resources is a legal obligation as well as an agency mandate. Meeting these obligations depends on many factors and is subject to different interpretations by individuals, organizations, and courts. The managers of MPAs are the front line stewards for special places held in common for the public good. Charged with maximizing the protective and social benefits of MPAs, managers of marine cultural and natural heritage resources deal with complex technical, ethical, and moral questions and challenges. This toolkit will help managers understand their obligations and provide them with a basic array of resources and steps they can apply for integrating cultural heritage with natural resources into their management planning and programming.

Creating Opportunities

Integrating cultural heritage provides dynamic opportunities for improving MPA outcomes. The Cultural Landscape Approach that provides the ethical and intellectual foundations for this toolkit offers fundamental principles that can guide MPA planning and management throughout the United States and its protectorate areas. Cultural heritage provides a well-tested means for expanding community engagement. Using a Cultural Landscape Approach to link biophysical science with historical, ethnohistorical, ethnographic, archaeological, place-based traditional and stakeholder knowledge and insights offers a clear path toward successful ecosystem-based management and broad-based community stewardship.

Read more about a Cultural Landscape Approach in the National MPA System. (PDF)