Sharing our Research: Emotional Ecologies

I recently shared some of our more recent research on ‘Emotional Ecologies’ at the Conference of Irish Geographers. Cormac Walsh who co-chaired the session has written a report which is available on the Marine Coastal Cultures website: Between Nature and Culture, Land and Sea: Spatial Practices at the Coast: A Conference Report

I am also looking forward to speaking about the cultural value of coastlines at the National Landscape Forum later this week.


Can we think of algae as charismatic? [Image credit: the Cultural Value of Coastlines]

Dublin Bay: Meet the Experts

On Thursday 8th February the Cultural Value of Coastlines research project held an advisory meeting at the National Maritime Museum of Ireland. This was an opportunity to bring together some key decision-makers and specialists from the Dublin Bay area to discuss how we might think of the marine environments of the bay as being culturally valued.

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The meeting included a presentation of the research so far and think-tank discussions of the key benefits and challenges for Dublin Bay as well as imagining future scenarios for the Bay. The museum provided an opportune backdrop for exploring the many ways that cultures and natures combine at the coastline. The advisers described many cultural benefits arising out of Dublin Bay, such as: connecting with nature, recreation, aesthetic values (including from industrial heritage) and spaces for environmental education.

The next steps for the research will be to meet as many local interest groups as possible to discuss how they interact with Dublin Bay and its ecosystems. If you know of a group or are interested in this research please contact us or explore our website to find out more.

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“A wild oasis”

Currently processing the feedback from participants on how and why they value North Bull Island and Dollymount Strand and came across this passionate perspective:


“This is a wild oasis right in the center of Dublin. It should be cherished and minded in perpetuity. I love looking at the birds – they tell us much about life and living.”

Participant, North Bull Island

Birds chatter in Sutton Creek, North Bull Island



Axiology – theories of value

The advantage of interdisciplinary research is that it enables us to think about problems from multiple perspectives. Different disciplines make different aspects of the world “visible”.

Working across marine ecology and the humanities is an integral part of The Cultural Value of Coastlines project. In my disciplinary tradition as a cultural geographer I have been interested for a while in the different cultures of nature. For me, this term highlights all the different ways there are of knowing and defining “Nature” from human perspectives.

‘… our natures are always culturally mediated’ (Massey 2006: 36)

The ways in which nature is culturally mediated is especially important when we are trying to make decisions about how we should manage the interactions between people and ecosystems. Decision-making involves determining and balancing values. For example, the Ecosystem Services framework (which our project addresses) defines nature and values it in particular ways. This can cause problems and tensions. For example, whilst talking about aesthetic and spiritual values of ecosystems, Cooper, Brady, Steen and Bryce have suggested that some perspectives of the relationship between human life and nature are so different that they are hard to reconcile (Cooper et al. 2016).

‘[T]he core conceptual framework of ecosystem valuations (that combines science and economics) is at odds with the conceptual frameworks for beauty and the spiritual that are in common use in Western cultures, however dominated by economic thought these cultures appear to be’

(Cooper et al. 2016: 219)

However, the exciting prospect of the Cultural Value of Coastlines project is the opportunity to have these difficult conversations across opposing disciplinary traditions. I hope that in a year’s time, at the conclusion of this experimental research, we will all come away with a more interesting and developed understanding of the relationships between cultures and natures in their various forms.

‘the task of the arts and humanities, both in their creative and educative aspects, is to contest, to challenge, to question, to undermine, to satirise, to offend, to violate, to deconstruct, to degenerate, to critique, to undo, or to suspend dominant and dominating assumptions of value’

(Miller  2013 in James 2015: 346).

There are so many different ways to value our coastal environments – The Walkway at Bull Island, Dublin


Cooper, N., Brady, E., Steen, H., & Bryce, R. (2016). Aesthetic and spiritual values of ecosystems: Recognising the ontological and axiological plurality of cultural ecosystem “services.” Ecosystem Services, 21, 218–229.

James, S. P. (2015). Cultural Ecosystem Services: A Critical Assessment. Ethics, Policy & Environment, 18(3), 338–350.

Massey, D. (2006). Landscape as a provocation – Reflections on moving mountains. Journal of Material Culture, 11(1–2), 33–48.



Our first trip to Bull Island

On the 15th August we had our first team field trip to Bull Island and Dollymount Strand.

Situated on the North of Dublin Bay and jutting out from the North Wall, Bull Island is a fascinating example of the intermingling of culture and nature.

We began by walking along the North Wall looking out to Dublin Port and the iconic Poolbeg chimneys.

However, it was not long before Tas was on his hands and knees inspecting the seaweed as he and David (the ecologists) shared with John and I (who represent the humanities) the different species, how they function, and where to find them on the shoreline.


After a quick stop at the Realt na Mara statue we headed onto Dollymount Strand, which glistened in the sunshine. As we traversed the long sandy beach we discussed the project, our aims and the different methodologies we might develop to better understand the relationship between culture and ecosystems.


At the end of the island towards Howth, where the sediments shift with the movement of Sutton Creek, we were about to turn back when we spotted an object in the distance. It looked like a beached whale, dark and slumped on the wet sand. But as we approached it we discovered it was something else entirely. A rusting car abandoned and slowly decaying on the sandflats. And yet on its buckled and course metal frame a multitude of seashells had made themselves a home.


This was a microcosm of Bull Island itself. An intermingling of the natural and the cultural that is so combined it is sometimes hard to distinguish between the two. But to what extent is this abandoned car a cultural artifact and to what extent is it a biological habitat?


This is a challenge for the Cultural Value of Coastlines as we try to frame cultural interactions with biota and ecosystems in the framing of Cultural Ecosystem Services.

We will return to Bull Island soon.