Marine Planning
Practical Approaches to Ocean and Coastal Decision-Making

Humans in the Ecosystem

“The human and natural domains are no longer viewed as separate but rather as connected and embedded entities in webs of interactions.”

Liu et al. 2007

Linked Social-Ecological Systems

Traditionally, ecologists focused on natural systems, and social scientists focused on human systems. Generally, people have been treated as external influences on natural systems, and human society has been studied separately from natural systems.

That worldview is shifting dramatically. Natural and social scientists increasingly study humans and ecosystems together as linked social-ecological systems. This approach recognizes the multitude of reciprocal linkages between humans and nature over the full range of spatial and temporal scales. People are embedded integrally within the global ecosystem, such that when people affect natural systems it ultimately leads to reciprocal effects on humans. The complexity of these interactions makes understanding linked social-ecological systems both daunting and essential.

Managing for Sustainability

This changing worldview is transforming the practice of marine and coastal management. Traditionally, management has focused on single sectors of human activity, such as fishing, sewage discharge, and shipping, and attempted to deal with the impacts separately. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) and marine spatial planning (MSP) provide frameworks for managing human activities in the context of linked social-ecological systems. These approaches recognize the importance of viewing people as embedded in the ecosystem and of addressing the complex reciprocal linkages of these systems in order to achieve sustainability. The growing emphasis on multi-objective planning and ecosystem services (sidebar) reflect this change in management practices.

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  • Saltmarsh
    Saltmarsh. Photo © Peter Taylor
  • Whalewatching
    Whalewatching boat. Photo © Micah Maziar
  • List of fish for sale
    Sustainablly-caught fish for sale in Morro Bay, California. Photo © Bridget Besaw
  • Kayaks
    Kayaks on the beach. Photo © Peter Taylor


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