Dear editor,

The article “MPAs as ‘eco-cultural systems’: Indigenous people and the intersection of culture and conservation” in your June-July 2016 issue illuminates an important element of the heritage of these places. Too often the indigenous communities have had to work much harder than they should to have MPA managers understand, recognize and integrate their perspectives into the stewardship of these sites.

Indigenous co-management can be quite successfully accomplished, and one need look no further than Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve/National Marine Conservation Area Reserve/Haida Heritage Site in British Columbia (Canada). The Council of the Haida Nation and Parks Canada have forged and nurtured an effective partnership. We should all appreciate, acknowledge, and learn from the very long and often challenging process the Haida Nation and Government of Canada have embraced. They have achieved great progress in real, on-the-ground co-management of the significant natural and cultural resources present on Haida Gwaii.

The cultural heritage of places is a fabric woven of the contributions, over the full sweep of history, of many cultures. A deeper understanding of the maritime cultural landscape of a place, which encompasses the human-environment interactions in that place from the first peoples to the present, offers essential context related to interactions of the people with that ecological landscape — how people shaped this place and how the place shaped the people who lived there. It also offers the often difficult and complex interactions among those who valued that place throughout its history.

To consider only one culture’s interaction and influence over that landscape is insufficient. It fails to provide the context needed to fully understand what we see today, the challenges we face in effectively preserving and protecting the significant natural and cultural resources that landscape has supported and continues to support, and to avoid further polarization of one perspective over another as the “most important”. Each culture’s contribution is important in some way. Each changed the landscape and was changed by it. And the historical conflicts that occurred there, however uncomfortable they are to understand and address, are elements of the story that must be part of the deeper knowledge of place we should seek. It is the rich and complex cultural legacy of all that can help us learn the lessons of the past, and perhaps not repeat those with each passing generation who do not seek this knowledge.

There is increasing interest in the integration of maritime cultural landscapes in the management of MPAs. How we might go about doing this effectively is the subject of a growing body of literature. Managers from a number of countries are participating in conferences and workshops on the subject to raise awareness of this approach and better implement it in MPAs. As an example, a Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium was held in the US last year, sponsored by the US National Park Service, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Office, with extensive participation of indigenous communities and their perspectives. The Symposium aimed to better define maritime cultural landscapes and offer some consensus approach for integrating this into MPAs in the US. It is hoped that the results of this meeting will offer opportunities to expand the reach of this idea to others, and to foster further discussion of the value of this approach in place-based preservation of the maritime landscapes we value and protect for future generations.

Clearly, however, any management approach can only be fully successful if we overcome polarization of perspectives, and avoid valuing any culture’s influence over the historical landscape of a place over any others’ contributions. We must seek a deeper understanding of the contributions of all, honoring and respecting what each has brought to that place, and how that place was influenced by those people who were deeply connected to that landscape. All voices should be welcomed, heard, acknowledged and given due consideration in finding a path forward to effective preservation and management of MPA resources. All should have a say in which path is chosen.

Trying to understand something without the larger context is challenging and potentially divisive — and is best avoided if we are truly interested in learning from the past and using that knowledge effectively, together, to better protect and preserve these places we value.

Brad Barr

Barr is senior policy advisor for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS). In his comments here, he is not speaking for ONMS, NOAA, or the US Government.


In the June-July 2016 issue of MPA News, the article on MPAs as eco-cultural systems stated that the Gwaii Haanas Archipelago Management Board in Canada has equal board representation, with two members from Canadian Government and two from the indigenous Haida Nation. Actually the board has three members from each, not two (