Identifying culturally significant areas for the marine spatial planning.


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Despite the growing recognition of their importance, immaterial cultural values associated with the sea still tend to be neglected in marine spatial planning (MSP). This socio-cultural evidence gap is due to inherent difficulties in defining and eliciting cultural values, but also to difficulties in linking cultural values to specific places, thus enabling an area-based approach to management. This paper addresses three aspects that are important for including marine cultural values in MSP: Defining cultural values, identifying places of cultural importance, and establishing the relative significance of places of cultural importance. We argue that common classification schemes such as cultural ecosystem services can be a helpful starting point for identifying cultural values, but only go so far in capturing communities' cultural connections with the sea. A method is proposed for structuring a community-based narrative on cultural values and “spatialising” them for MSP purposes, using five criteria that can lead to the definition of “culturally significant areas”. A baseline of culturally significant areas is suggested as an aid to planners to pinpoint places where cultural connections to the sea are particularly strong. Throughout, we emphasise the need for participative processes.

Sea Basin(s): 
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Not sector specific
Type of Issue: 
Social aspects
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Analyse spatial aspects
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Integrated Coastal Zone Management
Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer: 

  • How can cultural values be defined?  
  • How can cultural values be spatialized?  
  • How can cultural values be considered in MSP processes with the same importance that economic and ecological values? 

Implementation Context: 

The study is based on the results of the workshop "Mapping cultural dimensions of marine ecosystem services" that took place in Germany in June 2013. The workshop was jointly organized by the International Council of the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the Integration and Application Network for the Land Ocean Interaction in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ), and the Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG). 

Aspects / Objectives: 

The study aimed to develop a methodology for identifying and spatializing immaterial cultural values in MSP, as well as to provide guidelines for planners and managers on how to incorporate areas with cultural importance for the community in the MSP process. 


The authors propose the concept of culturally significant areas according to five criteria (cultural uniqueness, cultural reliance, importance for resilience, degree of tradition, and cultural change), and provide recommendations on how to conduct a study in a specific community setting.  

Main Outputs / Results: 

The study suggests the concept of culturally significant areas, proposes new cultural ecosystem service criteria, and provides recommendations for the criterion of structuring and organizing the culturally significant areas. The methodology provides a better understanding of cultural values within a community, and allows incorporating the cultural evidence into the MSP processes.


The methodological approach can be applied in MSP worldwide. 

Responsible Entity: 

Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) 

Funding Source: 

Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) 

Contact person: 

Kira Gee: 

Andreas Kannen: