Stewardship of Cultural Heritage

lighthouse at sunset with trees in the foreground
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - Cape Hatteras National Seashore

NPS Photo

The NPS works to protect markers of our cultural heritage found at important maritime historic sites as well as our underwater archeological resources. Centuries of commerce and seafaring history are represented by the shipwrecks found throughout the ocean and Great Lakes parks. National Park Service underwater archaeologists document the condition and guide the stewardship of submerged resources such as the U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor (HI), the remains of passenger-package freighters and bulk haulers in Isle Royal National Park in Lake Superior (MI), and the evidence of more than 250 marine disasters, ranging in age from Spanish galleons to iron-hulled steamers, on the coral reefs of Dry Tortugas National Park (FL). In addition to conserving the shipwrecks themselves, memorials, maritime museums, and life-saving stations on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and along the Great Lakes commemorate the stories of sacrifice and bravery associated with these landmarks and with our nation’s military conflicts

Lighthouses, coastal forts, and other icons are touchstones of our maritime history. Yet they all present stewardship challenges, since they cannot be replaced or easily restored if damaged. Park managers must tackle threats to these structures in inventive ways. When encroaching seas and eroding shorelines threatened the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, for example, the National Park Service moved it and its 130-year-old supporting structures nearly 1,000 meters to safe, higher ground. Shoreline retreat is just one preservation strategy among many that managers must consider in the preservation of our nation’s invaluable maritime history.

For Further Reading

USS Arizona


Isle Royale

Moving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units

Last updated: May 25, 2017


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