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What Strategies do MEBM Projects Use?

Research and Assessment

Research/Collaborative Science – Research undertaken by MEBM initiatives or in partnership with other organizations has increased understanding of key ecosystems and resources.

Research/Collaborative Science

Monitoring and Assessment – By monitoring species and habitats, MEBM projects detected changes that allowed managers to determine cause-and-effect relationships between stressors, program activities and ecological processes.

Monitoring and Assessment

Evaluation and Adaptive Management – By evaluating the effectiveness of their strategies, several initiatives learned from their experiences, and acted on new information to improve their strategies.

Evaluation and Adaptive Management

  • Regular evaluations of program activities at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park led to the expansion and revamping of marine protected areas based on new ecological data.
  • The San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance (SLOSEA) implemented an experimental project to remove invasive bryozoans. The project found eradicating them only allowed another invasive species to take their place. As a result, SLOSEA abandoned the strategy.
  • Adopting recommendations from an external evaluation, the Wadden Sea Trilateral Cooperation in 2010 created a governance structure that added a new body of appointed government staff better able to attend to the governance needs of the initiative.  The initiative also clarified the roles of its advisory bodies.

Planning and Coordination

Collaborative Planning – MEBM initiatives used collaborative planning to establish visions, set goals, or create strategic plans, all of which served as springboards to support voluntary or regulatory actions.

Collaborative Planning

Cross-Jurisdictional Coordination – By establishing a forum for cooperation among agencies, states or nations, MEBM initiatives coordinated management activities, shared information, and developed solutions to problems that crossed political boundaries.

Cross-Jurisdictional Coordination

  • The Gulf of Maine Council, often called a forum for process, allowed agency officials of participating Northeastern states and Canadian Maritime provinces to exchange information, identify shared issues, facilitate habitat restoration projects, and recommend additional transboundary solutions.
  • The governors of California, Oregon and Washington committed their states to pursue seven shared goals to improve the health of their coastal ecosystems through the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health.
  • The governments of Angola, Namibia and South Africa committed to develop and harmonize national policies to improve management of a key fishery through them mechanism of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme and Benguela Current Commission.
Marine Spatial Planning – A number of initiatives created public processes to generate spatial plans that better protected key resource values.  By designating protected areas or drafting broader plans to prevent conflicting uses, MEBM initiatives managed human activities in accordance with ecological and socio-economic goals.

Marine Spatial Planning

  • Australia began Marine Bioregional Planning efforts along five coastal regions to develop scientific and biological information, identify regional conservation priorities, and broadly outline networks of marine protected areas that will be refined with stakeholder engagement.
  • To implement its Marine Life Protection Act, the State of California carried out an extensive stakeholder-based planning process to identify a network of marine protected areasto advance multiple goals. To date, the process has designed roughly 15% of state waters as protected areas.
  • Canada established five regional marine planning initiatives, including the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area, an ongoing collaborative effort with First Nations bands, coastal stakeholders and researchers to identify management strategies that link scientific and economic principles to promote resource conservation.

Zoning and Regulation

Marine Protected Areas – Marine reserves were often created as a result of planning processes or as a reaction to the perceived need to protect ecological processes such as spawning or particular resources such as coral reefs.

Marine Protected Areas

  • To protect sensitive fish spawning areas, the Philippines FISH Project facilitated a process in which 25 marine protected areas were created.
  • Establishing a marine protected area at Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa was a strategy to protect coral reef from exploitative and damaging fishing practices within the bay’s flooded volcanic crater.
  • Restrictions on human activities within the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve aimed at protecting the unique ecological conditions of this small archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.
Zoning – Some MEBM initiatives identified areas in which particular uses should be restricted either spatially or temporally.

  • After zoning areas in a piece-meal fashion over two decades, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park expanded and revamped its zoning strategy by documenting and classifying bioregions within the park and applying principles to sustain commercial activities while protecting an ecologically representative percentage of habitat.
  • Interest in protecting coral reefs at Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve in Belize led to the creation of a plan that delineates zones of activity that include restrictions on fishing, boating, and other human activities.
  • Research on ways to reduce threats to endangered whales at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in New England led to a 2007 decision to shift shipping lanes 12-degrees northward to avoid the humpback and finback whales’ primary feeding areas. Analysis of whale sightings and ship strikes identified habitat zones to be avoided.
  • Similarly, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary worked with the U.S. Coast Guard to request the International Maritime Organization establish an Area to be Avoided (ATBA) on the Olympic Coast.  Adopted in 1995, the ATBA advises ships carrying petroleum and hazardous materials to maintain a 25-mile buffer from the coast.  Since then, the Sanctuary has developed an education and monitoring program to help implement the ATBA.
Regulation – Government regulations issued or advocated by MEBM initiatives sought to guide human uses or practices to achieve conservation goals.


Habitat Restoration

Restoration – Restoration projects, either MEBM pilot initiatives or more formal programs, aimed at improving ecosystem functioning and resiliency.


  • The Northwest Straits Commission funded locally-based pilot projects, and larger scale efforts, such as a marine debris removal program, to restore the ecosystem of Puget Sound.
  • The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve established partnerships to support habitat restoration projects. The reserve provided planning services and coordinated volunteer workers, and tested restoration strategies using smaller, pilot projects.
  • The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program partnered with state, federal and NGOs entities to restore rivers, wetlands and seagrasses that contribute to the health of the estuary.
  • By working with The Nature Conservancy and the Albermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program, the state agencies that oversaw the North Carolina Coastal Habitat Protection Plan restored oyster beds and conducted additional habitat improvement projects.

Enabling Actions of Others

Strategic Grant-Making – Initiatives provided strategic grants to incentivize other entities to take actions that support ecosystem-protection goals.

Strategic Grant-Making

  • The Gulf of Maine Council provided habitat restoration grants to projects that offered long-term ecological benefits and promoted effective habitat restoration.
  • The Northwest Straits Commission provided grant funding to incentivize local Marine Resources Committees to address local problems in ways that meet a regional vision for ecosystem restoration.
Capacity-Building – By increasing the legal, managerial and technical capacities of organizations, MEBM projects created the means for communities or nations to transition to ecosystem-based management.


  • The Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Program, which was focused on coastal areas of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, strengthened scientific communities, and improved management of fisheries through policy development and community education.
  • Angola, Namibia and South Africa are participating in a program focused on the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem to develop and harmonize national fishery policy and water quality guidelines, and increase opportunities for scientists to develop skills and expand monitoring.
  • China and South Korea joined the Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem Project to build connections among scientific, academic and managerial communities of the two nations, and develop legal, policy and institutional reforms to improve management of the resource.
Incentivizing Sustainable Economic Activities – Other types of targeted incentives motivated external parties to transition to more sustainable economic activities.

Incentivizing Sustainable Economic Activities

  • The Marine Stewardship Council managed an ecolabel program to give seafood that meets sustainable harvesting standards greater visibility on supermarket shelves, and incentivize producers to participate in the program.
  • Supporting the conservation goals of the Mafia Island Marine Park in Tanzania, the World Wildlife Fund provided loans to fishermen to use more sustainable fishing gear, and provided technical and financial support to community-based enterprise groups that developed non-fishing alternative economic activities.

Raising Awareness and Concern

Outreach and Education – Other initiatives paired outreach and education efforts aimed at resource users, policy-makers and the public to increase understanding, change behavior, or build support for action.

Outreach and Education

  • The Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council held scientific conferences to increase understanding and prioritize regional issues, and reach out to stakeholders to develop consensus on European Union fishery management policies.
  • The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve offered a training program on coastal issues for decision-makers and education courses for school teachers. It also engaged community members by holding courses of local interest, such as how to use Cape Cod-appropriate home landscaping, and community-building events, such as a watershed block party.
  • The Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary aligned Western-style management with local customs through its outreach and educational efforts with the local community in American Samoa. The sanctuary printed an English- and Samoan-language newspaper. Staff also visited local schools, and helped build community support for conservation.

This material should be cited as: "Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, Marine Ecosystem-Based Management in Practice (Ann Arbor MI: School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, June 2012),"