Ecosystem-Based Management

From Beachapedia

Port Orford by Pete Stauffer
Ventura aerial photo by US Bureau of Reclamation
Trawler in San Juan Islands by Jody Kennedy
Lighthouse in San Juan Islands by Critter Thompson
Orcas in San Juan Islands by Critter Thompson

A leading recommendation of the Pew Ocean Commission and the US Commission on Ocean Policy was the need to apply ecosystem-based management (EBM) to protect and conserve our coastal ocean environment. Subsequently, the need for EBM has been emphasized by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative and the West Coast Governor’s Agreement on Ocean Health among others. EBM has become the recommended paradigm for ocean and coastal conservation.

So what does ecosystem-based management mean?

Communication Partnership for Science and Sea (COMPASS), an organization dedicated to helping coordinate and communicate important marine conservation science issues defines ecosystem-based management as the following:

Ecosystem-based management is an integrated approach to management that considers the entire ecosystem, including humans. The goal of ecosystem-based management is to maintain an ecosystem in a healthy, productive, and resilient condition, so that it can provide the services humans want and need. Ecosystem-based management differs from current approaches that usually focus on a single species, sector, activity or concern; it considers the cumulative impacts of different sectors.

In other words, ecosystem-based management means taking the entire ecosystem, the way it interacts, including with humans, into the equation when making decisions. While this may be revolutionary for government agencies, the concept is very intuitive for Surfrider’s grass roots activists. Our advocacy tends to take a community-based or area-based approach in addressing coastal issues, which often tends to be inherently ecosystem-based.

At a conceptual level this seems obvious but exactly how to put EBM into practice remains ambiguous and challenging. One practical place to start experiment with EBM is at the community level and that is exactly what the Surfrider Foundation is trying to do.

The Surfrider Foundation is active in several precedent setting community scale “ecosystem-based management” campaigns that are demonstrating the value of proactive coastal and ocean management that takes the entire ecosystem into consideration. These communities are the San Juan Islands and Gray's Harbor in Washington, Port Orford in Oregon, Ventura in California and Rincón in Puerto Rico. Also see our blog posts on Ocean Ecosystems.

Surfrider Foundation also published a series of EBM articles during 2008 in the publication Making Waves. The articles were a general introduction, The San Juan County Marine Stewardship Area, Ecosystem-Based Water Use, Port Orford, Oregon, Ecosystem-Based Marine Protection (Reserva Marina Tres Palmas, Puerto Rico), and Ventura, California.

Also see the website of the West Coast Ecosystem-Based Management Network

To learn more about EBM visit:


The goal of ecosystem-based management is to maintain the health of the whole as well as the parts. It acknowledges the connections among things. - Pew Oceans Report, 2003

Ecosystem-based management 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. Ocean Commission Report, 2004

This article is part of a series on the Ocean Ecosystem looking at the various species of plants and animals which depend on a healthy coast and ocean environment, and the threats that can be posed to them by human activity

For information about laws, policies and conditions impacting the beach ecology of a specific state, please visit Surfrider's State of the Beach report to find the State Report for that state, and click on the "Beach Ecology" indicator link.