Integrating Cultural Resources into MPA Management

diver examining a wreck
Submerged cultural resources and the natural environment are intimately related, as evident between the striped snapper and this WWII amphibious landing craft.

At the most basic level, cultural heritage resources within MPAs consist of those tangible and intangible assets which serve to connect us to the environment. Shipwrecks are a primary example of these heritage resources, for vessels of many shapes and sizes are the ubiquitous platform for human experience on the water. The interpretation of wreck sites reveals much about the activities of past seafarers, their ports of call, their cargos, and the nautical technology of the vessel itself. But consider the seascape of the sailor; it's more than just the ship. Anchorages, wharves, navigational aids, lighthouses, channels, harbors and port facilities all capture elements of the past, the remains of which can often be found underwater. And consider the more direct relationship of mariners from the longer pre-industrial age. Canoe construction areas, bays and landings, navigation landmarks, traditional fishing and gathering locations, and the customary knowledge of these places are all intangible elements which preserve the same cultural heritage, even though that knowledge is not focused on a physical property per se. All of these tangible and intangible assets or resources are elements of the maritime cultural landscape. When understood, they speak of important past and present human activities, connections to the marine environment that maintain our cultural identity and life-ways.

Opportunities and Obligations

people surronding a caneo preparing for launch
Marine areas may be significant sites of traditional practices such as canoe launching areas.

Maintaining healthy coastal and marine ecosystems requires a fundamental understanding of the relationships between people and the environment. Adopting a cultural landscape approach can help managers achieve this understanding, as well as engaging new audiences in support of marine conservation goals. A cultural landscape is a place where the intersection of culture and nature leaves a distinct ecological or cultural imprint. A cultural landscape approach is an analytical framework for understanding the ways in which specific cultural and environmental processes overlap and influence one another. In many ways, a cultural landscape approach is analogous to ecosystem-based management – it is a holistic way of looking at places, people and how they form and change one another.

Many protected area managers lack training and knowledge of cultural resource management. As a result, these resources were sometimes neglected or managed by cultural resource experts separately from other MPA resources. Moreover, traditional approaches to the management of cultural resources such as shipwrecks and archeological sites typically studied and managed these sites individually. A cultural landscape approach can help identify ecological and cultural connections among different sites, resources and protected areas over time.

Methods and Approaches

This section will help you understand how to identify cultural resources within your MPA, and how to integrate these resources into your MPA management plan. Managers do not have to "reinvent the wheel" in order to protect their important cultural heritage resources, for more sites every year are gaining experience in CR management. Here are seven basic steps in initiating CR management in your MPA.

1. Develop the important cultural landscape contexts for your MPA, being sure to include the human and ecological history of your site.

The Cultural Landscape Approach provides the necessary contextual background to fully understand the local cultural setting and be able to identify important heritage resources at your site. Cultural Landscapes are the intersection of both human activities and environment, so information from both the natural/ecological and cultural/historical perspectives must be included. For further guidance see: A Cultural Landscape Approach

2. Identify the principal types of CR likely to be in your MPA.

What types of CR exist in my site? Every site possesses a variety of tangible and intangible cultural resources, important touchstones and waypoints connected to human history, which are of significance to multiple groups. The CR Primer provides detailed examples of types of CR.

3. Identify contemporary stakeholders and constituents with important heritage connections to associated CHR within your MPA.

CR management is not just about the site or artifact itself, but focuses instead on the human cultural connections that exist in, or are expressed through, your MPA. Creating a positive working relationship with those individuals and groups who have inherent cultural connections to your MPA may be the single most important step a successful site manager can take. For further guidance see: Engagement Outreach & Interpretation

4. Identify local tribes and indigenous peoples with connections to your MPA.

In general, many tribal and indigenous people have been intensely engaged with marine CR for many generations, and may already benefit from established traditional forms of resource management. For further guidance see: Tribal and Indigenous Communities

5. Identify the primary statutory responsibilities for CR management and protection within your MPA.

There are a number of federal and state heritage preservation mandates, and other laws that include cultural resources within their purview, that make up a site's legal responsibilities towards protecting CR.   Furthermore, state and federal agencies have specific obligations to many indigenous and tribal groups. It is the responsibility of the MPA manager to understand and abide by the established heritage preservation mandates, and to recognize and abide by the place-based authority and rights of tribal and indigenous peoples. For further guidance see: Legal Authorities

6. Identify available in-house or collaborative capacity for CR management and recognition.

All MPAs recognize today's capacity and budget constraints and so are often "moving towards" rather than "completing" conservation and preservation goals. It is important to seek partners and shared capacity in this specialized field of maritime CR management, and several excellent programs and organizations exist which can provide specific training and assistance. Local educational institutions and societies likely have contextual information. Seeking local researchers and others in this exciting field is a great way to engage the public in your MPA.

7. Incorporate CHR management and preservation into MPA's management plan.

With the proper background information, identification of resources, capacity and collaborating partnerships, and an understanding of your MPA's legal responsibilities, you are now in the position to make CR management and preservation a valued part of your formal site management plan. Like any other site resource, this will entail understanding the potential benefits of public outreach and education, the fundamentals of data collection and monitoring and evaluation, handling of potentially sensitive information, and the potential (or real) threats to the resource, such as human impacts and environmental forces. While specific CR strategies and activities may be consolidated in an individual chapter or sub-plan, the cultural landscape approach highlights the fact that cultural influences are part of every management decision for marine protected areas.

view shed
View sheds often have cultural significance. The National Historic Site of Pu`ukoholā Heiau (temple) on the Island of Hawai`i overlooks Hale o Kapuni (submerged) in Pelekane Bay, a site once dedicated to sharks.

Case Studies

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Management Plan Review