Ecosystem-Based Integrated Ocean Management: A Framework for Sustainable Ocean Economy Development

Executive summary

The global ocean is the largest ecosystem on the planet and is vital to the livelihoods, food security and wellbeing of billions. However, the cumula- tive impacts of human activities are increasingly degrading this ecosystem, while a drive for growth in maritime industries is leading to conflicts among sea users competing for ocean space and access to resources. Ocean managers are faced with an urgent task: the development of a sustainable ocean economy that meets the United Nations Sustainable Devel- opment Goals (SDGs) and that occupies the safe and just operating space for humanity, which lies between planetary ecosystem boundaries and the social foundation of wellbeing benchmarks at which every human’s needs for a healthy and fulfill- ing life are met. The wellbeing benefits of the ocean economy depend on a healthy global ocean eco- system capable of sustainably providing ecosystem goods and services that range from food to energy and oxygen, and on balanced, fair and just access to ocean space and resources. Ecosystem-Based Integrated Ocean Manage- ment (EB-IOM) provides a framework for a stra- tegic governance approach that can help build a sustainable ocean economy. This report defines EB-IOM as an adaptive approach for governing human activities at sea, rooted in the ecosystem approach , guided by the SDGs, with a strong focus on improving the ecological status of the ocean and on strategic integration across gov- ernance, knowledge and stakeholder silos. It is a conglomerate of multiple concepts, including marine spatial planning (MSP), that share a focus on more holistic and strategic management, with ecosystem-based management (EBM) at its core. Integration is central to EB-IOM, including horizon- tal integration across sectoral governance struc- tures, vertical integration across multiple tiers of administration, as well as integration of stakehold- ers, multi- and transdisciplinary integration (bring- ing together multiple spheres of knowledge), and integration across geographical scales and juris- dictional boundaries. EB-IOM thereby provides a basis for the protection of the ocean ecosystem from unsustainable cumulative impacts caused by multiple maritime activities in different parts of the global ocean, as well as for the fair and bal- anced management of competition and conflicts between ocean users. This will benefit ocean eco- systems, the habitats and species within them, and humans who depend on them.

Another core element of EB-IOM is adaptive man- agement, an approach for continuous improve- ment that, together with the precautionary prin- ciple, serves to iteratively develop, implement, evaluate and improve management measures, even in the context of uncertainties about the complex socio-ecological systems that are being managed. Ocean managers can draw from a pleth- ora of practical tools and approaches at each stage of the adaptive management cycle. These include Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) and economic impact assessments, decision support tools to develop future management scenarios, methods for characterizing and analysing conflicts relating to the use of marine space and practical approaches for managing those conflicts, as well as for designing effective and constructive stake- holder engagement processes and facilitating suc- cessful transdisciplinary collaboration. The suggested EB-IOM implementation frame- works and related tools have been developed in reaction to empirical observations of ineffec- tive and unsustainable current practices and out- comes, and are continuously being refined based on expert input from a growing number of disci- plines. Their implementation in real-world planning faces a number of barriers, which range from his- torical data and knowledge gaps and resource lim- itations to a lack of political will, though these are increasingly being overcome, as demonstrated in a growing number of empirical case studies, some of which are showcased at the end of this report. Far from being a purely theoretical construct, EB-IOM is a well-established, living and evolving approach that can enable us to live within plane- tary ecosystem boundaries, backed by decades of research, with a multitude of practical tools, a global pool of expertise and an increasing amount of real-world experience. It is an approach whose time has come.


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