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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.


Marine Licensing and Cultural Heritage, England

English Heritage (2014): Marine Licensing and England's Historic Environment.

Heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource and can be vulnerable to a wide range of human activities and natural processes. They have therefore been recognised by UK Government policy such as...

  • Jan 2014

SASMAP Guideline Manual 1 & 2


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

  • May 2015