Building on a tradition of multi-sectoral management in forests and other terrestrial ecosystems, as well as earlier coastal management and sector-specific marine management efforts, the Obama administration codified ecosystem-based management for the coasts and oceans in 2010. The US’s first ever National Ocean Policy is centered on an ecosystem-based approach to coastal and ocean management; this includes recognizing connections within and among marine ecosystems, and particularly that humans are part of these ecosystems; as well as articulating tradeoffs among the diverse benefits provided by coastal and ocean ecosystems.
Drawing on emerging findings developed by an interdisciplinary research team that includes ecologists, anthropologists, and human geographers, I will address the following research questions: What can we learn from ecosystem-based management in practice? How are the principles articulated in the ocean policy and related documents applied in particular places? How does ecological, social, and institutional context influence how resource managers and other decision makers define, measure, and achieve progress?
While the National Ocean Policy is just now being implemented, individual states – including Oregon – and regional associations of coastal states have been working to implement ecosystem-based approaches for some time. Drawing on data our team collected from six sites in the US, Mexico, and western Pacific, I will discuss the diverse ways that scientists and practitioners in these places are defining ecosystem-based management; the challenges and facilitating factors they encountered in implementing specific ecosystem-based strategies, and the types of outcomes that have emerged in each case. I will end by discussing how the definition and evaluation of success varies across these cases, and what the implications of these findings are for marine management - and ecologists’ engagement in these efforts - in the future, both in the US and elsewhere.