Ecosystem-Based Management

NOAA’s IEA supports EBM
For many years, NOAA has recognized the value and importance of moving towards Ecosystem-Based Management as an integrated way to meet the Agency’s missions and mandates. NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) program is developing and implementing a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to help advance EBM and to manage our Nation’s trust marine resources in an ecosystem context.

Ecosystem-Based Management is defined as:

An integrated approach that incorporates the entire ecosystem, including humans, into resource management decisions, and is guided by an adaptive management approach.

Ecosystem-Based management continuum
Continuum of Ecosystem-Based Management

EBM integrates humans as a component of ecosystems
An ecosystem-based approach to management (EBM) has at its core that humans are an integral component of ecosystems. Within EBM, human and ecological well-being are tightly coupled. Sustainability in both is only possible when they are addressed together.

EBM balances the diverse and interconnected needs of society and the environment
It is a management approach that addresses cumulative impacts and balances multiple, often conflicting, objectives across management objectives and/ or sectors. To this end, a primary goal of EBM is to balance the diverse and interconnected needs of society and the environment.

EBM manages ecosystem components as intrinsically linked
A fundamental principle of EBM is that individual ecosystem components (biological, physical, chemical, social, cultural, economic) are intrinsically linked to other components within a coupled socio-ecological system. For management to be effective, it needs to consider the relationships between those components, as well as the trade-offs of potential management actions on components in addition to the target component or objective. For the same reason, i.e. that components are linked, EBM imparts enhanced effectiveness by considering the influence of components like environmental conditions or other human activities on other linked components residing in the same space. EBM considers the whole ecosystem and how changes (human or natural) in one component might propagate through the system to influence the various other components in the system.

EBM is a stepwise process
EBM may seem too complex but by taking a stepwise process that is adaptive we can learn and incrementally move towards this holistic type of management. The first step is to consider all components of a system and the tradeoffs across them when making decisions. EBM does not replace existing management approaches but it builds on them so it does not require an immediate or drastic shift. Rather it seeks to broaden the scope of traditional resource management to bring a more holistic set of information to the table to inform decisions.

EBM can work on a continuum of management levels
An ecosystem-based approach can address single species, sector, or ecosystem service needs within a broader ecosystem context all the way to full multi-sector EBM. EBM is also not a “one-size-fits-all” framework. Though many may have the perception that EBM is only about supporting or achieving full multi-sector integration, and while this goal is important and potentially what ultimately we need to strive to achieve, there are steps that we can take in the meantime to inform more traditional management approaches in an ecosystem context. Making decisions in an ecosystem context falls along what we might call an "ecosystem-based management continuum" or spectrum of levels of integration of information or assessment. You can see this continuum in the figure above.

EBM has different meanings
There are many different definitions and perceptions of what EBM is. They all contain similar language with slight variations. Below is a word cloud depicting words that participants of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance Coordination and Support Action workshop most associated with EBM. Below are definitions from a variety of organizations that capture many of the fundamental aspects of this holistic management paradigm.

EBM word cloud
There are many different perceptions of what EBM is. This word cloud highlights how participants of a workshop defined the meaning of the ecosystem approach. This workshop was part of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance Coordination and Support Action Work Package 4: Ecosystem approach to ocean health and stressors - Workshop on Making the ecosystem approach operational