RftD Workshop explores the relations between Marine Cultural Heritage, Climate Change and the Environment

Workshop 1: Marine Cultural Heritage, Climate Change, and the Environment

Occurred: 27 October 2021 (10 am to 1 pm, UK)

Overview and Discussion Points

In the same week as COP26 commences in Glasgow, the Rising from the Depths (RftD) Network met to discuss how their projects have been effected by climate change, and how the Network has worked to mitigate the effects of a changing climate on vulnerable coastal communities and their natural and cultural heritage. Speakers from East Africa and the UK discussed a range of environmental and cultural issues, from both community and policy-level perspectives. The presentations and subsequent discussions highlighted several overlaps between regions, particularly regarding the identification and translation of Marine Cultural Heritage (MCH) into policy. Various opportunities to develop the role of living practices, and traditional and local knowledge within frameworks such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Marine Reserves, as well as policy instruments such as Tanzania’s National Adaptation Plan were highlighted. Ultimately, evidence was provided for both the vulnerability and centrality of cultural resources to the sustainability of local communities in the face of climate change. A major benefit of the RftD approach was seen to be providing a regional ecosystem approach (with a social and cultural element rather than focusing in technical aspects) and, most importantly, in giving communities in the region a voice.

Projects Presented

 Primary Findings

Various challenges have been identified across projects, and were often contrasted with the challenges facing natural resources in the region:

  • Regarding the integration of cultural values into policy, speakers brought up two primary challenges: the lack of knowledge regarding how to measure and value MCH alongside natural resources; and how to translate these values into community-centric management when there is a lack of understanding and capacity at a policy-maker level. The identification of the right policy-makers, as well as the engagement of targeted dialogue with them, was identified as a major challenge to influence change in the region.There is a lack of clarity at the governmental level not only on the value of marine cultural heritage but on what it actually is – in that most governments view cultural heritage (especially underwater cultural heritage) as a costly resource to be protected rather than a source of information and practice that can inform sustainable approaches. Often the importance of heritage is reduced to its role in sustainable tourism. One of the lessons of the Rising from the Depths projects funded so far is that marine heritage is much more than tourism – it is culture – it is a living and past resource that can inform future practice in the marine zone.The younger generations are not engaging with traditional practices and cultural traditions are being lost. Younger people as a group face the most instability in terms of climate change – as traditional knowledge is not being passed on, communities are losing potential resilience to social and cultural change.
  • With regards to coastal development and community practice, most projects identified a community awareness of the fragility of the natural and cultural coastal resources. Local voices were put at the center of discussion, although it was recognized that work needs to be done to integrate local knowledge and belief systems, as well as cultural sensitivity into coastal development, particularly regarding eco and sustainable tourism protocols and regional over-fishing.
  • Regarding future research, oppositional constructs were identified regarding the value of MCH between the Global North and South, as well as between professional practitioners, policy-makers, and communities. Further work needs to be conducted to understand and minimize structural inequalities between these constructs, to effectively integrate cultural values into policy. An example of structural differences in local knowledge was identified between generations, and it was suggested that integrating scientific evidence with local practice may re-engage younger generations with sustainable and traditional protocols.
  • Overall, the social and cultural elements of climate change were identified by a number of projects, yet still remain undervalued, and under-researched. Future work needs to be conducted into understanding how to identify, monitor, and integrate cultural services into climate change mitigation strategies for the benefit of both the natural and cultural resources, and the communities which depend on them.

It was clear that significant work has been achieved to kickstart these discussions in the region, and future work should focus on disseminating these results into policy and practice.

Wes Forsythe, from the University of Ulster, presenting on their finsing during the RftD project “Marine Cultural Heritage in Northern Mozambique”.

Concluding Remarks

Throughout the discussions, it became clear that traditional livelihood systems, practices, and beliefs – which form the customary regulation frameworks of coastal communities – are at risk of being lost due to a lack of awareness at a governmental-level, and a lack of inclusion within national development policies. The survival of local communities largely depends on the sustainability of marine resources, which in turn, depend upon the re-centring of sustainable, traditional knowledge and practices.

A clear understanding of MCH values and practices, together with local representatives in the policy and decision-making processes, is essential to ensuring preservation and the sustainability of livelihoods at a local level. This is particularly the case when coping with the global challenges posed by climate change. Certainly, RftD projects are showing the direct relation and impact of global policies within the local, living realities of MCH, as well as how urgent it is to include local voices, traditional knowledge and regulations into the wider debate and policy making.

The Workshop also showed that it is only through interdisciplinarity, and community and ecosystems-based integrated approaches that transformation can be achieved. In this sense, it is important to reflect on how we address MCH from an expert perspective to a community one, from the Global North approach, to the needs, narratives and understanding in the Global South.

This was the first workshop organized between the Rising from the Depths Network Innovation projects.  A Second RftD Workshop will dive more into this community-based approach throughout the governance of marine cultural and natural resources within the innovation projects, and a third one will look into creative industries and traditional arts related to the Marine Cultural Heritage and its use.

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