Taranaki has a rich and diverse history related to maritime culture. Located on the lower west coast of the North Island, this region was most notable historically for the Taranaki Land Wars and the peaceful resistance at Parihaka (Houston 2006; Lambert and Lambert 1983; McAlister 1976; Moorhead 2005; Prickett 1990; Sole 2005; Tullet 1981). However, there are also important heritage sites that are located within submerged environments. Referred to as submerged cultural heritage (SCH) to represent the large range and type of sites, these have been identified as numbering more than 180 and are found in completely submerged environments, intertidal zones, swampy areas and rivers (Dodd 2012).
SCH sites can represent varied significance to the communities that surround and utilize them as resources. For this proposal, communities are defined as a group of individuals that make up a larger body of people with a vested interest in SCH and include local residents and landowners, local business owners, local iwi, heritage professionals, avocational groups, tourists and the sport recreation community. Additionally, the local district councils (South Taranaki District Council, Stratford District Council and New Plymouth District Council) and regional council of Taranaki hold responsibility for the identification and management of these sites. Heritage New Zealand and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage have statutory and regulatory oversight in the management and protection of SCH resources overall.
While these sites may be identified as historically important or of interest to individuals or groups, there remain challenges in our understanding of coastal heritage that includes identification, protection and preservation. I will view communities through Harrison’s (2013, 36–37) interpretation of Actor-Network Theory with SCH as the central actor and explore the human networks that cause change. Utilizing qualitative research methods, including ‘sit-down’ interviews and focus groups, this research examines whether a better understanding of these influences on the preservation of SCH will allow for improved collaboration with Cultural Heritage Managers in attempts to understand possible scenarios for integrated practices in management. Over the course of one year, this data will be compiled to be the first comprehensive study of community relationships with the preservation of SCH in the Taranaki region and contribute to the literature related to community engagement for heritage in sites New Zealand.