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A Partnership of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, Brown University and Duke University

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What Have MEBM Projects Accomplished?

Increased Concern for Ecosystem Health

Recognition of an Ecosystem and Shared Responsibility for It – By increasing awareness of the values in an ecosystem and the threats facing them, projects encouraged people to identity with a place, which in turn created a sense of shared responsibility and momentum for action.

Recognition of an Ecosystem and Shared Responsibility for It

  • At the urging of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, other international agencies, including the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, recognized their responsibilities for the ecosystem, and took steps to protect Antarctic seabirds that feed and reside in areas outside the area managed by the commission.
  • The transboundary initiatives in the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound region increased awareness of the marine area as a single ecosystem. For example, the United States and Canada adopted the Salish Sea as the term to describe the waters of the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • The Wadden Sea Trilateral Cooperation called attention to the shared wetland and tidal flat ecosystem and encouraged agency-level representatives in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands feel they shared an identity and motivated concern to take action.
Enhanced Public Awareness and Understanding – Through outreach and education, initiatives raised public awareness and elevated concern for an ecosystem.  Public engagement supported public agencies’ efforts and increased their capacity for action.

Enhanced Public Awareness and Understanding

  • The Hawaiian Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary initiated an education and outreach program that built public support for its conservation strategies and increased awareness of the important role the humpback whale plays in the state’s tourism economy. More than 1,000 volunteers participated in a census of whale populations.
  • A five-year review of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve found that a greater number of residents were reporting environmental infractions or lodging complaints, indicating that residents were increasingly aware and supportive of the initiative.
  • The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve helped promote understanding of a local eutrophication problem, which is being partly addressed by two Massachusetts communities that voted to improve their wastewater treatment systems.  

Expanded Ecosystem Science and Understanding

Scientific Information – Through research, initiatives produced scientific information that increased understanding of the dynamics and processes at work in the ecosystem and informed development of policies, management actions, and public outreach efforts.

Scientific Information

Shared or Coordinated Data – A number of initiatives developed mechanisms that enabled information to be exchanged, pooled or harmonized. Ultimately these data sets provided decision-makers with a more complete understanding of the system. 

Shared or Coordinated Data

  • The federal and state agencies participating in the Albermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program began working from a common set of information after the project facilitated conversations on the sharing of information through a commonly accessible venue.
  • The Gulf of Mexico Alliance and its federal partners created a Web-based data portal called PHINS to share ecosystem information, which provided a single access point to data stored in multiple databases maintained by many different agencies. Access to the information facilitated more complex analysis of ecosystem trends.
  • The Wadden Sea Trilateral Cooperation created two committees that focused on the harmonization and sharing of data between Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, which enabled management actions, provided background information for international recognition of the Wadden Sea, and established a larger perspective on the issues affecting the ecosystem.
Monitoring Programs – Initiatives established monitoring programs to provide crucial data on ecosystem conditions. While monitoring generated data that informed management choices and adaptive management, investments in monitoring demonstrated interest in a place and were some of the easier actions to take to start-up an effort.

  • The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary monitored a host of ecological conditions, including the population sizes and densities of fish. The ecological information provided hopeful signs that the marine zoning strategies were a success. In addition, the sanctuary surveyed marine users to discern their perceptions of conditions in the resource. 
  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park used scientists and trained marine users, such as tourism operators, to monitor the health of various components of the ecosystem. It expanded the area off-limits to fishing after assessments questioned whether its resource protection goals were being accomplished.
  • At the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, staff monitored habitat conditions and marine organisms to evaluate regulatory actions and identify areas in which new regulations might be needed.
Shared Lessons about MEBM – Some initiatives identified key lessons they had learned from their efforts and exchanged them with other places in order to help projects get started and overcome challenges.

Shared Lessons about MEBM

  • The organizers of the Port Orford, Oregon Community Stewardship Area shared their experiences with individuals across the country, hoping to provide motivation for others pursuing similar projects.
  • The San Juan Initiative participants devoted time at the outset of the initiative to learn about MEBM and how it differed from other resource management strategies. At the conclusion of the initiative, they developed a list of “Key Steps” that provided five overarching lessons for other conservation practitioners.
  • Participants in the San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance (SLOSEA) shared their experiences and research related to MEBM and lessons learned through newspaper articles, book chapters, academic literature and reports on ocean management.

Established Processes to Facilitate Cooperation and Coordination

Mechanisms to Enable Interaction – Many initiatives produced new structures and relationships that enabled parties to interact in new ways, which allowed them to share information, discuss problems and identify solutions.

Mechanisms to Enable Interaction

  • The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary established a federal-state partnership through a written agreement that guides day-to-day and long-term management of the sanctuary. A Sanctuary Advisory Council provided a forum for interaction among resource users, stakeholders and marine managers.
  • The Narragansett Bay National Estuary Program’s Management Committee served as a vehicle for collaborative problem-solving among Rhode Island and Massachusetts decision-makers. It provided a neutral, non-regulatory arena for discussions with a focus on the ecosystem.
  • The organizers of the Port Orford, Oregon Community Stewardship Area established partnerships that include an agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife that facilitated communication between local fishermen and state officials. The partnership led to local and state collaboration on resource management and scientific projects.
International Cooperation – Other initiatives improved cooperation among nations, and provided ways for representatives of different countries to establish shared goals for an ecosystem.

International Cooperation

  • By creating a forum that develops consensus from its member nations, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources prompted other international bodies to take steps to improve the health of the ecosystem of the Southern Ocean.
  • The Gulf of Maine Council provided a venue for American and Canadian resource management agency staff members to share ideas and information, which led to greater coordination between the nations on the basis of shared goals for the Gulf ecosystem.
  • The Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Program developed a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by representatives of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. The MOU represented a commitment to greater international cooperation and established a tri-national body to discuss joint tasks to tackle ecosystem concerns.
Greater Coordination – By creating a structure for partner organizations to interact, initiatives enabled greater coordination of organizations’ activities, which reduced duplicative tasks and provided a greater focus on the ecosystem.

Greater Coordination

  • The Albermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program motivated its partners to work toward common goals, reducing overlap and redundancy in agency activities by providing a structure to coordinate interstate and interagency activities.
  • American Samoa’s Coral Reef Initiative acted as a clearinghouse to coordinate the many efforts in American Samoa that worked to improve the management of coral reefs and provided an ecosystem focus.

Created a Basis for Future Action

A Shared Vision – By developing vision statements, projects have created a clearer sense of a unifying set of goals, which motivate participants and encourage them to take action.

  • After several difficult starts to working toward MEBM on the British Columbia Central Coast, a new initiative, called the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Initiative, established a vision statement and principles that will guide a planning process with government agencies, tribal governments and ocean users.
  • The state and federal partners in the Chesapeake Bay Program recommitted themselves to the effort with the signing of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, a new vision and goal statement outlining shared commitments to protect and restore the bay.
  • The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance engaged stakeholders and representatives of New England’s groundfishing fleet in a series of workshops to develop a consensus-based vision for the future of the fleet that is intended to guide resource managers in creating sustainable and economically viable fisheries.
Plans and Priorities for Action – Many projects have developed plans and shared priorities for action that assist partners in identifying steps they should take to improve the ecosystem.

Plans and Priorities for Action

  • The Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Program held 12 stakeholder workshops in the region and built a conservation plan as a roadmap for the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to take steps to conserve and enhance biodiversity.
  • Staff of the three governors who signed the West Coast Governors’ Agreement developed a consensus-based, priority-setting workplan that identified specific actions to achieve its goals. It is backed by timelines and benchmarks to hold the states accountable for making progress to implement the plan’s recommendations.
  • The Willamette Valley-Puget Trough-Georgia Basin Ecoregional Assessment provided policymakers with a science-based and prioritized list of natural areas for conservation that is intended to guide future projects and funding.
Pilot Projects – Initiatives used pilot projects to test ideas on a smaller scale and at a lesser cost. Pilot projects resolved uncertainty, built momentum and generated support for future action.

Pilot Projects

  • The Gulf of Maine Council developed the Gulfwatch chemical-contaminants monitoring program as a pilot project, and formalized the program after it became successful. The Council also provided small grant funding to assist conservation organizations within the watershed in creating their own pilot projects.
  • The Gulf of Mexico Alliance used pilot projects to test new ways of tracking and predicting environmental problems among the five participating Gulf states. In addition, individual state representatives have encouraged the piloting of strategies to reduce nutrient inputs into the Gulf.
  • The San Juan Initiative was adopted as a pilot project by the Puget Sound Partnership to implement an on-the-ground, locally-accountable approach to ecosystem-based management that would help protect shoreline resources.

New Protections

Marine Protected Areas – By establishing a set of reserves, initiatives established greater protections on sensitive resources within defined marine geographies.

Marine Protected Areas

  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park sought to conserve at least 20 percent of 70 bioregions across the park by establishing a marine zoning strategy that included varied levels of protection. About 33 percent of the park was set aside as off-limits to fishing and another 33 percent was protected against some types of fishing activity, such as trawling.
  • The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary established a marine zoning plan with five types of management areas, including no-take Marine Protected Areas that were off-limits to fishing.  These areas encompassed six percent of the area of the sanctuary.
  • In the area of Puerto Penasco, Mexico, dive fishermen created community-based Marine Protected Areas that have been sanctioned by government authorities. The protected areas used seasonal closures in conjunction with other protections on the habitat to safeguard the important rock scallop fishery.
New Codes, Regulations, or Requirements – Many MEBM initiatives fostered the introduction of new codes, regulations or requirements to constrain or manage human uses that affected the marine ecosystem.

New Codes, Regulations, or Requirements

  • Designation of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary included prohibitions on certain activities, such as the exploration for oil and gas, certain discharges from vessels, and overflights by aircraft at low altitudes.
  • The San Juan Initiative focused on making recommendations to strengthen and enforce local ordinances affecting home construction, setbacks of homes from the shoreline, shoreline armoring, and tree retention practices.
  • Organizers of the Port Orford, Oregon Community Stewardship Area worked with the city to establish a new stormwater ordinance to improve water quality in freshwater streams and near-shore areas.

Economic Improvements

Created Alternative Economic Opportunities – By fostering alternative livelihoods for people living near marine resources, MEBM initiatives helped to reduce the intensity of extractive activities.  

Created Alternative Economic Opportunities

  • At the Mafia Island Marine Park, project participants created new economic activities for local residents by assisting in the development of aquaculture and eco-tourism activities. They also provided seed money for community-based enterprise groups to start or expand business projects.
Supported Traditional Economic Activities – Other initiatives improved existing or traditional economic activities by incentivizing more sustainable practices, improving markets and creating new linkages between fishermen and consumers.

Supported Traditional Economic Activities

  • The initiative in Caleta El Quisco, Chile provided fishermen’s unions with the ability to experiment with entrepreneurial strategies, which included creating a selling cooperative to ensure a fair price for their fish from exporters.
  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park provided marketing and promotional benefits to the operators of tourism businesses that obtained the highest level of EcoCertification through Ecotourism Australia. More than 50 percent of all visitors to the park now use a tourism operator that participates in the program.
  • The organizers of the Port Orford, Oregon Community Stewardship Area helped fishermen sell fish directly to consumers in the community as well as at food cooperatives in larger cities, providing them with direct access to a market.
  • The Georges Bank Cod Hook Sector, working with fishery regulators, obtained access to a previously-closed area to target haddock, which is not considered overfished, without impacting populations of cod.

Ecological Improvements

Eliminated or Reduced Threats – Initiatives improved the health of their ecosystems by eliminating or reducing specific threats.  To do this, they used a variety of strategies, including acquisition of strategic properties, reductions in nutrient sources, and management of users such as shipping.

Eliminated or Reduced Threats

  • The Albermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program facilitated a host of habitat restoration projects, including the removal of three dams, stabilization of riverbanks, and the installation of livestock fencing. More than 1,100 miles of important fish habitat were restored.
  • At the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, restrictions on vessel traffic led to a dramatic drop in the number of groundings that damaged coral reefs. Meanwhile, near-shore water quality improved as local governments improved municipal treatment of wastewater and eliminated septic systems.
  • The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve strategically acquired property near its core area, eliminating potential sources of nitrogen and damaging development from impacting the watershed and the bay.
Increased Species Abundance – In some places, shifts in monitoring data show increases in the populations of key species. While causality is always difficult to establish, some of the shifts can be attributed to the efforts of the MEBM initiatives.

Increased Species

  • Landings of hard clams, the most important commercial fishery in the area of the Delaware Inland Bays National Estuary Program, have increased. A greater percentage of the clams also were of a smaller size, which indicated that improvements in water quality facilitated the growth of the clam population.
  • The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary recorded an annual 7-percent increase in the population of humpback whales between 1993 and 2000. In 2000, the waters around the Hawaiian Islands were home to 4,500 to 6,500 humpback whales, researchers estimated.
  • During the course of the Philippines FISH Project, biomass of key species of fish within the project’s targeted areas increased 19 percent compared to baseline levels.

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),"