Most ecosystems today face multiple threats simultaneously. These threats tend to be studied at individual levels, and therefore their additive, antagonistic or synergistic effects are usually not assessed. The basic principle of ecosystem-based management is to recognise all interactions among an ecosystems' components, both ecological and social connections.
Ecosystem-based management has been implemented in terrestrial systems since the 1950s. Its origins lay in the concept “no park is an island”, which refers to the fact that especially large mammals cannot maintain sustainable populations within small natural reserves. The environment outside protected areas should therefore be managed in a biodiversity-friendly way. Therefore, the solution is to protect ecosystems in their entirety, not restrict their management to non-natural juridical boundaries. In some cases, plans have to be made across national boundaries, for instance in the form of transboundary management plans, in order to sustainably manage the natural capital shared between neighbouring countries.
The intent is to secure the long-term delivery of a variety of benefits that support both natural environments as well as human societies. As part of nature, humans should also be considered in the management of ecosystems. In practice, this involves balancing multiple, and even conflicting, objectives related to different uses of natural resources. Ecosystem-based management should place a high value on learning from previous experiences through adaptive management. Since both ecosystems and human societies are forever changing, the management of ecosystems should foremost be seen as an adaptive and on-going process with flexible goals, rather than a final endpoint.
This holistic and integrated approach is still a relatively new phenomenon in aquatic and coastal environments. With the rising demands on natural resources, such as the use of fish and seafood to meet growing human population's need for protein, ecosystem-based management is increasingly applied across different ecosystems. It can be used in the management of land, water and air, as well as urban and transformed landscapes.
This practice can be implemented across all sectors within an ecosystem. It is also possible to apply ecosystem-based policies to an individual sector within an ecosystem, for instance the management of specific species in the fishery industry. Ecosystem-based management of fishery considers the status of the commercial fish stocks as well as the ecosystem components that interact with the fish species of interest, such as its predators, prey and habitats. By considering all the aspects that affect the fish species throughout its life cycle, the chances of maintaining healthy fish stocks, and other components of the ecosystem, increases.
Ecosystem-based management is a tool that, similar to the Red List of Ecosystems, can be used to address ecosystem degradation. IUCN encourages integrated management of ecosystems that promotes biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of resources in an equitable way. Through its Ecosystem Management Programme the IUCN provides practical guidance and support in the form of conservation tools such as the Red List of Ecosystems.
Written by: Tina Sommarstorm
Provita May 11, 2017