Marine Cultural Heritage (MCH) and MSP

Main issues

According to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001), underwater cultural heritage (UCH) includes ‘all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character which have been partially or totally under  water, periodically or continuously, for at least 100 years', such as sites, buildings, vessels or aircraft. UCH can be linked by its nature to the planning scope of MSP, but coastal zones with historical aspects should also be considered. The term “marine cultural heritage” (MCH) reflects the linkage between MSP and integrated coastal zone management (ICZM), as well as regional land planning and will be used overall as synonymous with UCH.

To date, cultural assets are rarely included in MSP. This is due to several challenges a planner faces when considering coastal and marine historic environments:

  • Data accessibility: Databases and mapping tools are not standardised among the MCH and MSP community and have often (if at all) very limited public access.
  • Definitions: Normally, MCH is presented as dots on a map. The translation of a point-based into a polygon-based categorisation of archaeological sites requires a standardised definition based on a commonly agreed on and justified framework for MCH priority zoning.
  • Transnational cooperation: Several MCH zones will intersect with different jurisdictions (e.g. historical anchorage sites in river mouths forming a national border), thus MCH zoning can be only carried out as transnational collaboration.
  • Legislation: The statutory base for MCH protection requires a platform on which it could be implemented. Implementation so far has been inconsistent and some ratification processes of MCH legislation are still ongoing (most importantly the UNESCO 2001 Convention). Consequences and responsibilities for implementation could be reviewed and put into practice within a transnational MSP process.
  • Cost-benefit misconception: The prevailing public misconception of MCH as a hindrance to economic development needs to be critically reviewed. Instead, its potential for Blue Growth initiatives, particularly within the tourism sector, could be further developed.

One of the first projects dealing with these issues is the Interreg project BalticRIM. It aims to integrate cultural heritage resource management into MSP in the Baltic Sea, using the opportunity of the on-going national processes driven by the MSP Directive.

Please note that this section of the EU MSP Platform website is not currently being updated with new information. However, the resources throughout our website remain relevant to our mission of sharing knowledge and experiences on MSP in the EU.


In their plans, MSP authorities could set out a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment; plans could contain a clear strategy for enhancing the historic environment. MSP authorities could set out their strategic priorities to deliver conservation and enhancement of the historic environment for a given area in a maritime spatial plan. Of course, conservation and policy to enable sustainable access to MCH sites are under the responsibility of the competent ministry or authority. The main objective of MSP would then be to integrate this indication in the maritime spatial plans, assess and solve any conflicts with other sectors, and possibly support some sustainable use of MCH sites (e.g. sustainable tourism, biodiversity conservation and research, etc.).

On the basis of evidence, advice, consideration and review, MSP authorities could therefore develop a spatial approach with respect to the historic environment, recognising that the character and significance of the historic environment is not uniform across all maritime areas. This is for example outlined in the Historic Environment Scotland Act 2014 under Schedule 4: Functions of historic environment Scotland in relation to the marine environment. The approach to areas or zones could be integrated with spatial policies for the historic environment in adjoining terrestrial plans.

To enable planners to achieve a level of comparison of cultural heritage sites in their marine waters as well as cross municipalities' or countries’ borders and to facilitate  development of planning solutions, the BalticRIM project started developing category templates for defining / describing frameworks for the following topics:

  1. Statutory templates describe national legislation governing the protection and preservation of MCH and maritime heritage in general (not site-based) and display the international policy framework and country’s relation to these.
  2. MCH (assessment / evaluation) templates describe respective national categories of MCH assessment. As international professional criteria, templates include the Australian Criteria System, which is approved globally by heritage experts as the ICOMOS Australia Burra Charter. First adopted in 1979, the Burra Charter is periodically updated to reflect developing understanding of the theory and practice of cultural heritage management. The current version of the Burra Charter was adopted in 2013.
  3. Environment & vulnerability templates to visualize the various factors that affect UCH.

The templates will be published as a project output, possibly in spring 2019.

The PartiSEApate sectoral workshop on UCH and MSP took place to gather information on the composition and level of pan-Baltic organisations within the UCH sector, general development trends, views of MSP generally, and willingness of the UCH sector to contribute to a pan-Baltic MSP dialogue. Outcomes of the workshop are improved communication, sharing and integration of information and data between MCH and MSP stakeholders.

In the BalticRIM project, UCH and MSP stakeholders are starting with case studies including a sea battle area (Kymenlaakso, Finland) and a ship trap area (Jussarö in Raasepori, Finland). During these case studies, cooperation with local museums, historians, divers, blue growth businesses and regional MSP authorities are core tasks of the project.

In England, marine licensing is the responsibility of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), effective as of April 2011 in accordance with the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA 2009). The purpose of marine licensing is to help protect the marine environment including archaeological and historic sites in the English marine area (please see English Heritage, 2014: Marine Licensing and England’s Historic Environment). This includes activities directed at heritage assets on the foreshore and at sea around England (please see Marine Licensing and Cultural Heritage). Some activities used in the process of archaeological investigations that usually require a marine license include:

  • Using a rope, chain or lifting bag to recover objects powered by a vessels winch or crane;
  • To carry out any form of dredging, including excavation using a water dredge or airlift, other than hand-only dredging (i.e. fanning);
  • Deploy and leave marker buoys for more than 28 days;
  • Removal of objects from wrecks as well as excavations and surface recovery from designated sites. Diver investigation trails are exempt on designated wreck sites.

In case the appropriate license is not obtained, or there is a breach of a condition held on a license, this can be fined of up to a maximum of £50,000 in the Magistrate’s Court or a fine and/or imprisonment of up to two years on indictment. Activities significantly impacting a designated European marine site, a Ramsar site or a Marine Conservation Zone, cannot be licensed.

Another approach is outlined in the Study on the Conditions of Spatial Development of Polish Sea Areas, which focused on the permission system for the exploration and sustainable use of UCH and related to Polish tourism. It establishes a permission system for the exploration and sustainable use of UCH. Furthermore, it provides rules and procedures to regulate tourism activities and measurement of its impact on the development of coastal communities; these might be useful for an MSP process taking UCH into account.

Sustainable and efficient use of marine space can be achieved through a combination of different maritime uses in the same location or with multi-use offshore platforms. The MUSES project outlined some benefits of a multi-use (MU) approach, associated with ensuring spatial efficiency and not expanding maritime uses and activities beyond the optimal area required:

MUSES identified for MCH a MU-approach with tourism and environmental protection when a touristic and recreational activity is combined with the protection of underwater archaeology and its adjacent marine ecosystems.

In countries with a ratified UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, the designation of a MCH site may positively support the environmental protection aspects of this MU. In addition, national management plans set different levels of protection for MCH. In some cases, and based on the nature of the MCH site, the general public can be allowed to access these sites through touristic activities. Two types of MU touristic activities can foster the Blue Economy:

  • Dry access with museums on land showing the richness of cultural heritage in the near sea or glass bottom boats which are used for the non-diving public to view these fragile objects.
  • Dive tourism where in situ access is given to scuba divers to view UCH sites.

Combined MCH multi-use is most prominent and popular in the Baltic Sea (Estonia, Finland and Denmark) and the Eastern Atlantic Seas (Spain, Portugal and France). It has good potential in the Black Sea after the HERAS project, and Underwater Routes were set up and jointly implemented by Romanian and Bulgarian research institutes and historical museums to explore shipwrecks and other underwater remains and opportunities for diving. It has a strong and imminent potential in many countries of the Mediterranean Sea due to rich UCH sites, good temperatures and clear waters with great visibility.

Positive synergies can occur with wind farm planning, such as in the Netherlands. Large infrastructural works with low social acceptance have benefitted from positive publicity through discovered MCH sites during the installation work. In the North Sea, preserved wreck locations within a poorly protected natural marine park have strengthened the protection of an ecosystem through the ban on ship-passages.

Marine Licensing and Cultural Heritage, England

Marine licensing is aiming to protect the marine environment including archaeological and historic sites in the UK marine area which has direct effects for planning.

Study of Conditions of Spatial Development of Polish Sea Areas

The inventory study included documenting marine cultural heritage considerations for MSP.

SASMAP Guideline Manual 1 & 2

Marine archaeologists have developed new techniques and guidelines for locating, assessing and managing Europe’s underwater cultural heritage.

3D scanning system – 3DUNDERWORLD

The scanner is the outcome of the 3Dunderworld project. It is an innovative hardware and software solution for the rapid scanning and 3D reconstruction of objects, which can help to the mapping of underwater cultural sites.