Marine Planning
Practical Approaches to Ocean and Coastal Decision-Making

What Is Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM)?

An Integrated Approach to Management

EBM is an integrated approach that considers the entire ecosystem, including humans. Marine management typically has focused on a single species, sector, activity or concern, whereas EBM takes into account the cumulative impacts and interactions of different human activities.

Marine monitors. Photo © Nancy Sefton

The goal of EBM is to maintain an ecosystem in a healthy, productive and resilient condition so that it can provide the services humans want and need.

According to the COMPASS Scientific Consensus Statement, ecosystem-based management:

Christensen et al. (1996) defines the following elements of ecosystem-based management:

Pacific harbor seal. Photo © Nancy Sefton

Definitions of EBM

"The goal of EBM is to maintain the health of the whole as well as the parts. It acknowledges the connections among things."
 — Pew Oceans Commission

"EBM looks at all the links among living and nonliving resources, rather than considering single issues in isolation…Instead of developing a management plan for one issue…EBM focuses on the multiple activities occurring within specific areas that are defined by ecosystem rather than political boundaries."
U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy

For the purpose of the OSPAR Convention, the ecosystem approach is defined as “the comprehensive integrated management of human activities based on the best available scientific knowledge about the ecosystem and its dynamics, in order to identify and take action on influences which are critical to the health of marine ecosystems, thereby achieving sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services and maintenance of ecosystem integrity”.
OSPAR Commission for protecting and conserving the North-East Atlantic and its resources

“Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is intended to overcome the shortfalls of traditional, single-sector management. EBM is a comprehensive, integrated approach to managing people’s impacts on the ocean with the goal of sustaining healthy seafood, clean beaches, and other ocean benefits.”
Ecosystem-based Management Roadmap

“In ecosystem-based management, the associated human population and economic/social systems are seen as integral parts of the ecosystem. Most importantly, ecosystem-based management is concerned with the processes of change within living systems and sustaining the goods and services that healthy ecosystems produce. Ecosystem-based management is therefore designed and executed as an adaptive, learning-based process that applies the principles of the scientific method to the processes of management.”
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

“The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Thus, the application of
the ecosystem approach will help to reach a balance of the three objectives of the Convention:
conservation, sustainable use, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out
of the utilization of genetic resources.”
Convention on Biological Diversity


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