Learning Pathways

Cultural heritage and ocean governance

Target Group
  • Artists,
  • Community workers,
  • Policy makers
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This learning pathway explores the various linkages between culture and cultural heritage with the ocean, including cultural values, history, heritage, and Indigenous and local knowledge systems. It includes an introduction to culture and heritage in the ocean context (Module 1), representations of ocean culture and heritage (Module 2), and recognition of culture and heritage within decision-making frameworks (Module 3). This pathway will lead you through nine resources, ranging from videos and blogs to scientific articles, and will take approximately two hours.

Pathway Description


Culture can be defined as the human-man parts of society, encompassing beliefs, attitudes, and norms; it is also associated with arts, customs (Triandis, 1996). Cultural heritage is identified by the World Heritage Convention as consisting of both cultural and natural heritage and is not limited to tangible artefacts but includes intangible ones such as traditions, language and performing arts (Champion, 2015). In the context of the ocean, these terms are multifaceted and understood as not only referring to spatial territory but also historical knowledge, management, and political histories encompassing both tangible and intangible elements of human interaction with the marine environment (Lehman, 2018). Indigenous and Local Knowledge and cultural heritage, particularly intangible cultural heritage, are often underrepresented in ocean governance processes, such as Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Marine Protected Areas (MPA), highlighting the need for their integration into ocean management approaches (Rivers et al., 2023).


Growing recognition of the importance of raising and integrating the cultural values of the ocean is represented in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 71/312, adopted in July 2017, which emphasises the need to recognize the cultural connections between humans and the ocean in informing responses to global challenges and enhancing sustainable development. Additionally, to promote the recognition of the intersections between heritage, sustainable development, and culture, the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) was established to strengthen the international promotion of the integration of scientific knowledge with cultural, social, and economic aspects of the ocean. Through the UN Decade of Ocean Science, research has shown equal commitment to this work by collaborating with artists, cultural and spiritual practitioners, civil society, and Indigenous and local knowledge holders. Furthermore, there is a pressing need for meaningful integration of culture and cultural heritage in global ocean governance to contribute to inclusive sustainable development and promote participatory community action and engagement.

 The following learning pathway provides insights into the significance of culture and heritage in ocean governance, in the context of sustainable development. By the end of the learning pathway, you will have a deeper understanding of the role of ocean culture, history, and heritage, and how the persistent marginalisation of these dimensions in ocean governance has reinforced inequalities and unsustainable practices. Join us on the journey of exploration and discovery.

What you will be able to discuss:

  •   The importance of recognizing the role of culture, heritage and local histories in the ocean context.
  •   Why the inclusion of ocean culture and heritage encourages equality in ocean governance and sustainable practices.
  •    Different ways to represent the integration of cultural values, heritage and histories into ocean governance.
  • How including the voices of local people, their culture and heritage is integral to achieving just ocean governance processes.

Pathway Content

Module 1 Introduction to Ocean, Culture and Heritage

In this module, we highlight the importance of culture, heritage, and history in the ocean. The module highlights that the ocean is more than water; it is intertwined with human histories, cultures, and heritage.

Module 2 Representations of Ocean Culture and Heritage

This module will illustrate that over the years, research has consistently demonstrated the importance of acknowledging culture and heritage in the historical context of a group of people, which includes Indigenous and local knowledge systems in the ocean environment. As such, Module 2 depicts cases from the global South revealing that Indigenous peoples and local communities, including small-scale fishers, have cultivated a deep understanding of marine ecosystems, based on centuries of intimate interaction with coastal and marine areas and living organisms as well as the complexities in evaluating these interactions.

Module 3 Recognizing Culture and Heritage in decision-making processes

In a rapidly evolving world, the significance of embracing Indigenous and local cultures, histories, and knowledge within ocean governance discourse, has emerged as a core theme in contemporary discussions on sustainable ocean management. Case studies conducted across diverse coastal communities and regions have consistently revealed that decisions that account for Indigenous and local cultural and heritage values tend to be more effective, both in terms of environmental preservation and human well-being. These findings highlight the importance of considering these values as integral in making better-informed and more equitable decisions on sustainable development in the ocean environment, such as blue economy policy development and marine spatial planning. Furthermore, work by researchers such as the One Ocean Hub brings forward discussions about the critical role that artists, educators, and community leaders play in promoting cultural and heritage awareness within ocean governance, fostering transformative change by celebrating the intrinsic ties between culture and sustainability.

Module 4 Quiz on cultural heritage in ocean governance

Take our quiz to test your knowledge - and provide feedback on the learning pathway (3 minutes)

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