Lighthouse Cultural Heritage – A Matter for All Coastal Nations


Lighthouse Cultural Heritage – A Matter for All Coastal Nations

Lighthouse Cultural Heritage – A Matter for All Coastal Nations

By:Sealite | August 05, 2021

The legacy of the lighthouse has for centuries played a critical role for navigational safety. Lighthouses symbolise strength, durability and hope. They have immense social and historic value not only for seafarers but also local communities and their visitors.

Lighthouses tell a rich story of culture and architecture. From their position on original lands to their engineering brilliance, many are still in use today. Their optic design with its many moving parts, is a testament to the physicists and engineers that were involved in their original design and construction.

In 2018 at the 19th IALA Conference in Korea, the Incheon Declaration was announced. It formally recognised the role of lighthouses and their cultural heritage.

The Incheon Declaration – Its Purpose

Under the declaration “Cultural heritage includes but is not limited to navigational, technological, material, industrial, social, environmental, architectural, maritime and local aspects. It lends itself to education and wider cultural and commercial activities”.

This acknowledgement emphasises lighthouses as just not unique but as a meaningful legacy for maritime history. The declaration identifies that they should be celebrated, maintained and restored for the benefit of our future generations.

Responsibility of IALA Members and National Authorities

The Incheon declaration encourages IALA members to raise awareness for the need to conserve and sustainably manage historical lighthouses. As members the sharing of knowledge, training and international cooperation is encouraged to strengthen capacity for coastal nations to manage their lighthouses in a co-ordinated manner.

National Authorities are obligated to carefully manage heritage properties within their regions. Conservation and maintenance activities are undertaken to ensure these sites retain their heritage significance. The aim is to prevent further deterioration, avoid major repairs and restore where practical and feasible.

What Criteria is Considered for a Heritage Listed Site?

Governing bodies around the world consider sites that have been identified as having outstanding heritage value. The criteria used to assess includes (but is not limited to):

  • The uniqueness or importance of the site when compared to other similar sites
  • Determining if the site is uncommon, rare or endangered
  • The demonstration of high level creative or technical achievement for the period
  • The sites contribution to an understanding of natural or cultural history for future generations

The Australian Heritage Council as one example, has developed Guidelines for the Assessment of Places for the National Heritage List to aid in the process.  

Heritage Lighthouse Restoration

Heritage listed buildings often have stringent rules and caveats attached relating to the level of restoration that can be undertaken. This often includes its visual appearance, shape, footprint and location.

Before a restoration project is even considered, the undertaking of a risk assessment is important to identify:

  • Structural integrity of the building, footings and surrounds
  • Potential for exposure to toxic materials
  • OH&S of personnel onsite and future visitors to the lighthouse
  • Availability of replacement materials and fragile nature of components
  • Estimated costs for restoration and ongoing operation

Conservation of Lighthouses in their Original State

Taking into consideration the outcome of a risk assessment, it may not always be feasible to restore the lighthouse to its completely original state.

In addition, mariners themselves may have greater navigational requirements than the original system. Lighthouses provide stable platforms for launching additional AtoN services, such as AIS and/or RACONs. Furthermore, there are more modern energy efficient systems as a means of powering the lighthouse whilst still retaining the original lens and design features.

Using efficient LED light source technology , can drastically reduce the power demands and extend maintenance periods, but also has a life of up to ten years, as compared to traditional bulbs requiring replacement annually.

Of utmost importance is safety, stability and its ongoing costs of operation. Reduced maintenance is also another distinct advantage.

Guidance on Heritage, Legacy and Lighthouse Conservation

IALA members and other authorities have access to technical recommendations and guidelines to assist them with lighthouse conservation. The technical documents include recommendations on conservation of the building, the use of modern light sources in traditional optics and selection and display of heritage artifacts.

The full list of guidelines are available in IALA’s Technical Documents Catalogue 2021 (2.6 Heritage and legacy p29).