Based upon data collected during her surveys in Morocco between 1999 and 2019, Dr. Athena Trakadas identified six natural and man-made factors that impact the preservation of cultural heritage in the coastal zone.  She completed this study while a KUDAR-ANAMED Fellow in the Autumn of 2019, and the results were recently published in the Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology.

Sites like Metrouna (A) and Sidi Abdeselam del Behar (B) were occupied from the 5th c. BC to the 5th century AD. Located at an old silted-in river mouth on the western Mediterranean coast, the archaeological sites (in blue) have been impacted by sand mining and coastal zone development (in red). (Author/Google Earth.)
Coastal environments serve as important repositories of evidence of human activities. They can contain indications of past migrations and settlements, including remains of infrastructure to support transport networks and the exploitation of marine resources. These liminal spaces, however, are dynamic, whilst non-renewable cultural heritage resources are fixed.Climate change is causing a rise in global sea levels and will lead to an increase in the intensity and magnitude of coastal storm events. Growth of the global population is a major stressor, as ca. 40% of world’s population today lives within the coastal zone. Resulting rapid coastal development can compound the longer-term natural coastal sedimentary processes already underway.

In Morocco, as in other countries with extensive shorelines throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region), the need for more effective management of the factors that impact cultural heritage of the coastal zone has not gone unnoticed. The coastline of Morocco extends across the northwest Maghreb region of Africa, from the western Mediterranean to the eastern Atlantic. Cultural heritage resources include archaeological remains that reveal a myriad of past human activities in the country’s coastal zone, from Middle Paleolithic habitation sites to historical large-scale port infrastructure. As more than 60% of Morocco’s population and 90% of the country’s industries are situated in the coastal zone, cultural and natural resources alike are facing risk of deterioration and loss.

Essaouira Island: Two Roman rock-cut fish-salting vats on the eastern face of the island were intact when photographed in 1955 prior to excavation (seen from above, upper edges highlighted for clarity) but had already eroded by the 1960s. (after Jodin 1967: Pl. XXVII, with permission of INSAP)
Essaouira Island: Two Roman rock-cut fish-salting vats on the eastern face of the island were intact when photographed in 1955 prior to excavation (seen from above, upper edges highlighted for clarity) but had already eroded by the 1960s. (after Jodin 1967: Pl. XXVII, with permission of INSAP)
Essaouira Island: Photo from 2004 shows the same features lying in the tidal zone (the southern-most vat as seen from above, opposite angle from previous with inner edges highlighted for clarity) (photo: A.Trakadas).
Essaouira Island: Photo from 2004 shows the same features lying in the tidal zone (the southern-most vat as seen from above, opposite angle from previous with inner edges highlighted for clarity) (photo: A.Trakadas).
Essaouira Island: The vats from the shore in 2004, looking north (photo: A. Trakadas)
Essaouira Island: The vats from the shore in 2004, looking north (photo: A. Trakadas)
In 2012, Morocco ratified the UN Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Protocol and passed national ICZM legislation in 2015; both laid out a framework for future management plans to include protections for cultural heritage assets. One of the main challenges to developing national ICZM plans, however, is a gap in knowledge: There has been no baseline assessment of how all the factors at play impact these assets. This is necessary to inform management plans as past, present and future trends need to be identified along with risks that can affect archaeological sites.

By focusing on northern Morocco as a case-study, this article aims to fill this gap by identifying six factors that affect its coasts with examples of their documented and potential impacts on archaeological sites: coastal zone development, sand extraction, coastal sedimentary processes, storm waves and tsunamis, sea level rise and pollution. The information compiled to determine these factors was derived from published archaeological, geological, biological and hydrographical studies. The impacted sites were observed during surveys conducted between 1999 and 2019.  The data presented aim to provide a clear correlation between the processes and their impacts. This article, therefore, offers a preliminary assessment to support the development and content of ICZM plans.

The information presented in this article will directly feed into subsequent types of assessment, where vulnerable areas or zones are identified using applicable data with baseline measures on all known archaeological sites. An effective methodology that is presently being implemented in the MENA region includes the newly-established MarEA Project (Maritime Endangered Archaeology, part of the larger EAMENA Project – Endangered Archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa). Recently, my colleague Azzedine Karra and I completed a detailed Desk Based Assessments (DBA) of Essaouira, on the mid-Atlantic coast for the MarEA Project, using satellite imagery, published data, archival information.