This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jim Delgado: Thank you, Paul. Good morning everybody. I’m Jim Delgado with NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program. I hate these things. Sorry, Daina. Hopefully you can all hear.
I think we’ve heard some very good words and seen some tremendous examples from Paul in regards to maritime cultural landscapes. I’d like to start by being the first of a group of folks that have helped convene this to talk a bit about perspectives from the various agencies, why we care, what we are doing, why we’re doing what we do, and a bit about where, perhaps, we’d like to see, at least the agencies, the next few days evolve.
NOAA, as the nation’s ocean science agency, I think is more than just the NASA of the seas, more than a weather bureau, and more than even a collection of unique sites out there in the marine sanctuary system. NOAA is an agency with a specific task of dealing with the environment, and in that, I think you get at the heart of why we, as an agency, and why we specifically, as the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, like the idea of the maritime cultural landscape. Because at its simplest, as explained to us, and as we’ve now adopted as policy, we see maritime cultural landscapes as a means by which we can start to deal with this very basic concept of human beings responding to the maritime environment, and increasingly, and particularly for us, how human beings now have shifted as a species to being an organism that not only responds to the maritime environment, but influences and is in fact changing the maritime environment. I think we saw that powerfully with the demonstration of an island disappearing.
With apologies to anybody that wants to get into that argument, climate change is real. Sea level rise is gonna happen. Indeed, we also see other issues, such as ocean acidification and things that concern us particularly in sanctuaries, which are special places in the sea to preserve not only the unique natural resources, but also those cultural resources, those heritage resources. What I like particularly, and what we’ve also adapted as our own policy, is that in large measure, particularly for us in the ocean, we are not splitting the two, natural resources versus cultural resources. In many ways, they do overlap. They do interconnect. They interconnect powerfully in indigenous culture where what some might perceive as a natural resource is a cultural resource. Talk to the Makah about whales, for example.
The Maritime Heritage Program, which is now a little better than a couple of decades old, was established by our director, Dan Basta, to look at and to engage the fourteen sites that we have in Maritime Heritage as well as cultural resources. Initially, I think, as one might see, particularly looking at our own past, that was very powerfully focused on shipwrecks. I have to say, being a shipwreck type of person, I like that. I like it a lot, but it didn’t really fire on all cylinders, in particular as we went out and we began to engage with communities. When you take a certain community and you go to talk to them about their shipwrecks, you find rather quickly that, in some cases, people may respond to them, may like them. In other cases, they simply don’t like them. At Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the traditional fishing community sees the wrecks of the fishing boats out there as something not to be celebrated or even recognized. Those are the losers. It’s the ones that are out there that are actively fishing and working that are the winners. They’re the culture that needs to be celebrated, not those who went down.
I think, as well, what we also found was that we weren’t really engaging with our communities if we only focused on shipwrecks out there, and didn’t somehow relate them back to the communities ashore. Now, we do try to engage in a variety of ways. Out at USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, as you’ll see, the engagement with the Battle of the Atlantic does link people specifically to shipwrecks because they have families who served on those vessels, who, in some cases, died on those vessels. And, in that way, we have seen people suddenly get it, or care about something that hitherto they may not have, even if they’re in the heartland of the country, because uncle Joe or their grandfather was on one of those tankers or one of those freighters and even, yes, in one of those U-boats.
So with that, I think we began to look at this as part of a critical question for us, which was how do we not only manage and protect, how do we engage? How do we share? How do we connect? How do we become more relevant? And in that, how do we deal with a variety of audiences, in particular people who don’t have a connection, or so they think? I think, also, powerfully, too, how do we engage with the indigenous communities? I think we needed to do more, and we certainly knew we needed to do more, than simply address something as seemingly simple as different indigenous peoples or different ethnic groups who happened to serve on ships. We needed to look at water and uses of water. We needed to look at the submerged prehistoric landscapes, but we also needed to look at ongoing persisting uses, indigenous traditional uses.
And in that vein, yes, I think Paul is absolutely right. I think the drowned Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, a powerful landmark in the maritime cultural landscape of peoples out there on that river, even though drowned by dam construction, and, for the tribes out there, I think you could probably spell that two ways, remains something that tugs at their hearts and is part of their ongoing landscape as well as their belief system, and when that dam finally comes down or that water is lowered and that dam once again roars and the fish move along it and the people can use their traditional dip nets, then I think something will come back out of this landscape and be back in that landscape.
Where do we want to go over the next few days? From our perspective in sanctuaries, I think … We’ve adopted maritime cultural landscapes in their broadest sense as our policy, in terms of how we deal with cultural resources. We are increasingly focusing more resources on that, not only by conducting studies, but by actively going out and doing, listening, taking things like a white paper developed by the Marine Protected Areas Center with Val Grussing and so many others here, John, all of you who have participated in that, taking that then and using it as part of our management plan, as part of our consultations, and ultimately, what we’d like to see is how we can actually sit down and not just do, say, national register nominations for ships or collections of ships, but address the landscape itself. Even if we don’t end up doing a nomination, using that criteria, adapting, blending it into our own decision making I think is gonna be key for us.
One of the most difficult aspects for us is that, indeed, the maritime cultural landscape isn’t always tangible. It is as simple and as powerful as an ocean current which has been used as a highway, either by prehistoric Polynesian navigators or by people who followed that route, some of whom ended up shipwrecking, but others just consistently and persistently using it. It can be as powerful as a means by which through this area of the water souls passed to the next plane of existence. It can be as powerful as a sacred place, as I saw when I was out at Bikini. In that maritime cultural landscape, when we were diving when I was in the Parks Service back in 1989 to 1990 on the fleet, it became very clear that that maritime cultural landscape, even though irradiated, still was powerful and resonated with the people. When one of the Bikinians came back and, with us, went out and took us to the sacred reef and was again able to gather the grasses that grew on that reef … How could you not get it? How could you not connect with these people in this sense?
And, indeed, in that vein, as well, I think moving forward for us a couple of other things as we grapple with some of our responsibilities. For better or for worse, probably for worse, NOAA, thanks to Congress and the courts, has a fair amount of the ball when it comes to dealing with Titanic, and for us, in looking at that, and particular answering hard questions at times from different places, why should Americans care about a British ship sitting out there in international waters? Well, we care for more than just the simple fact that it’s an iconic shipwreck, that, in the treatment of that shipwreck, perhaps certain messages are sent to the broader public. We care for that reason, but we also care because Titanic is a powerful element in the broader American maritime cultural landscape. And it cuts across all sorts of lines.
For us, in moving forward, how best to deal with it? I’m not sure we could ever do something perhaps with a national registry nomination, but just imagine if, as an ocean agency such as us or BOEM or the Parks Service with submerged lands, we were able to link in and say, “Titanic is more than this site. It is the Wagner Library, built to honor a dead son. It’s Molly Brown’s house in Denver. It’s the monument put up in Washington D.C., to the men who stepped aside and let the women into the life boats. It’s this chapel. It’s this group of graves, and indeed, it’s also those graves up there in Halifax. It’s that place that it was built out there. It’s part not only of an American maritime cultural landscape, but a Western, European, perhaps, maritime cultural landscape.”
Or, if we’re to deal with whaling, it’s more than just shipwrecks. It’s more than just Charles W. Morgan as a national landmark floating out there. It’s shore whaling stations. It’s indigenous and persistent whaling traditions, like those of the Makah. It is the bask whaler in Canada. It is whalers’ churches. It is whaling grounds, known and charted on the oceans but, otherwise, for most people, just a big old patch of blue until you understand its ongoing cultural significance and what happened there. In that, I think moving forward for us in NOAA, what we see is not only an ability to better understand and deal with resources, but also to then take something that hitherto has been out of sight and out of mind for most people, not merely under the water but on the water and part of the water, and get them to care about it.
To get people to care about it, to get them to support what we do as the government, what we do as practicing professionals who care about heritage and culture and tradition, to get them to care about it as people who are actually paying the bills is key. But what’s also key is then taking that and using those oceans, using those messages, to encourage the type of things that need to be happening today in society, discussion and dialogue, not merely drawing lines. Talking about how these themes unite us, talking about how these themes speak not just to the past but to the present and to the future, and coming back to the start of where I was with this, for our mission, using it as well to get people to care about the oceans themselves because they’re in trouble. And that, ultimately, is why my bosses tolerate a Maritime Heritage Program in an ocean science agency.