Research, Monitoring and Evaluation

A Resource by the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee (These statements do not necessarily reflect the positions of NOAA or the U.S. Government)

tribal members on the beach
Tribal members share information about nearshore traditional resources in 2003 at Crescent Bay, Olympic National Park, WA. (Jacilee Wray)

Effectively recognizing and understanding cultural resources within a management area can be achieved through community engagement, research and data collection. Submerged archaeological sites, as part of a region's maritime cultural landscape, can be a reflection of international, national, regional, or localized habitation, commerce, industry, immigration, transportation, naval actions, and sacred areas. Researching the cultural history of an area and the interconnections between water- and land-based human activity can elucidate both broad historic patterns and specific activities that may help identify and contextualize individual archaeological sites or culturally sensitive areas.

Archaeological data collection augments research through diver reconnaissance or the use of specialized remote-sensing equipment to locate and study submerged sites. Newly-discovered cultural resources should be inventoried and investigated to compile baseline data regarding their location, extent, condition, age, purpose, identity (in the case of vessel remains), and cultural affiliation. Cultural heritage research also involves sociocultural, socioeconomic, and political variables of the communities.Ethnographic and other social scientific research is typically used to understand the these dimensions of MPA use, especially where native peoples are involved. The primary techniques for acquiring ethnographic data are through observation and interviews.

Periodic monitoring should be implemented to understand and track changes and impacts over time, especially in regions that experience regular industrial expansion, recreational activities, and/or consistent marine traffic.

Opportunities and Obligations

bronze pintle
NOAA archaeologists use towboards to search for shipwrecks such as the British whaler Gledstanes in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. (NOAA ONMS)

Developing research to build data sets for historical context and reported sites can aid in understanding and identifying an area's cultural resources and is a crucial step in detection and preservation. Data collection is part of the discovery effort and can also define areas that are not cultural sites. Knowledge of both site presence and absence is important in developing contextual information for defining culturally sensitive areas. Data collection is instrumental in recording discovered sites, their attributes, history, location, and condition. Criteria outlined in the National Register of Historic Places can be used to help determine significance, and may also be augmented by other additional designations at the state level that can aid in long-term preservation of sites.

Monitoring is the most effective method for studying changes to a submerged site over the course of its lifetime. Impacts, both natural and man-made, constitute what is referred to as a site's "formation processes." Systematic monitoring can potentially identify the factors that influence a site's degradation so that preventative measures can be implemented.

By understanding the local sociocultural and socioeconomic context in which marine resources are used, planning and programming for conservation can be achieved through stakeholder engagement. A number of critical socioeconomic and cultural indicators are often measured, analyzed, and monitored.

Methods and Approaches

two divers doing a scientific dive
Training and collaborating with volunteer stewards can be crucial for collecting data, and serve a dual purpose for public outreach and education. (NOAA ONMS)

Developing historic, ethnographic, and archaeological contexts involves research, database management, and effective file management. Geospatial databases, such as ArcGIS, are invaluable tools for creating summary research files that can include diverse and extensive information. Developing such data sets and the related research can be time consuming and sometimes outside of the scope of existing responsibilities. In such cases utilizing volunteer stewards and interns can be crucial for assimilating data, and serves a dual purpose for public outreach and education.

Archaeological data collectionand monitoring will vary based on the geophysical setting of the site. Attributes such as visibility, depth, salinity, temperature, and associated biota all affect site preservation and protection potential. Data collection and monitoring is effected through remote-sensing survey methods as well as dive investigations and mapping.

Data collection and analysis of sociocultural and socioeconomic phenomena may involve both quantitative and qualitative methods, including direct or participatory observation, open-ended interviews, semi-structured interviews, and focus groups.

The evaluation of cultural resources can include federal and/or state designations of significance, including the framework established by the National Historic Preservation Act and its supplemental bulletins that offer additional guidance for specialized topics. For assistance in National Register nominations, and to learn of individual state designations, please contact your State Historic Preservation Officer.

Case Studies

Texas Historical Commission's Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation Efforts

Additional Resources