Marine Spatial Planning: A Step-by-Step Approach toward Ecosystem-based Management

By Charles Ehler and Fanny Douvere.
2009, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and Man and the Biosphere Programme, 99 pages. Free at

Taking a practitioner-oriented approach to its subject, this publication breaks down the process of marine spatial planning (MSP) into 10 distinct steps. It describes and assigns tasks related to each step, provides maps of existing MSP initiatives around the world, and offers several quick tips and helpful reminders along the way. It even offers advice on what to do if you “get stuck” in the process of MSP (“Analyze the problem; start with the easier parts; don’t try to do it all at once”).

“Numerous attempts have been made to define both the scope and nature of MSP, but relatively few have discussed how to put it into practice,” write Ehler and Douvere. “This guide aims at answering your questions about how to make MSP operational in such a way that can move your initiative toward successful results.”

Ehler and Douvere point out that MSP can be undertaken at a variety of scales – not just as a national-scale effort. “While some countries like Belgium, The Netherlands, and Canada have taken a top-down approach from the national level, that is not the case elsewhere,” they say. “In the territorial seas of Sweden and Norway, for example, MSP traditionally has been the responsibility of local governments. In British Columbia (Canada), First Nations indigenous people are developing local marine spatial plans ahead of provincial and federal efforts. In Germany, and now the U.S., MSP was started at the state level.”

Ocean and Coastal Ecosystem-Based Management: Implementation Handbook

By Kathryn Mengerink, Adam Schempp, and Jay Austin.
2009, Environmental Law Institute, 169 pages. Free at Hard copies are available for free in limited quantities; for a hard copy, e-mail

With a focus on the U.S., this guide identifies successful approaches to implementing marine EBM, including opportunities to apply them in the future and descriptions of the approaches’ limitations. With examples to illustrate how practitioners are taking steps toward EBM, the handbook is designed to share a variety of strategies that may be useful in different settings depending upon regional needs and opportunities.

Rather than covering all aspects of EBM, the authors focus on five specific challenges to implementation and governance that arose repeatedly in the course of their research. These areas of focus are:

  1. Developing an ecosystem-based vision and plan;
  2. Incorporating ecosystem science and information into management decisions;
  3. Creating accountability and adaptive management for executing ecosystem plans;
  4. Addressing cumulative ecosystem impacts within and across management sectors; and
  5. Making tradeoffs among competing and/or conflicting ocean uses.

Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans

Edited by Karen McLeod and Heather Leslie.
2009, Island Press, 368 pages. US $45 at

With contributions from 46 scholars and practitioners, this book is a comprehensive guide to the science and practice of marine EBM. It takes a cross-disciplinary approach to its subject, spanning the fields of anthropology, complexity science, ecology, economics, fisheries science, geography, philosophy, political science, resource management, and sociology. As such, it provides a synthesis of emerging knowledge needed to inform the practice of EBM. The book also features several case studies from around the world to demonstrate EBM in practice. “The case studies in the book illustrate the diverse ways that practitioners are translating the concepts of EBM so that they work with their local social and ecological contexts,” say McLeod and Leslie.

Book excerpt from Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans

“There is no single correct path to EBM. The approach will be put into practice in many different places across a range of spatial scales, each with its own unique historical, ecological, and social context. […] Regardless of the starting point, EBM must ultimately include (1) a means for sectors to work toward common goals, (2) a mix of strategies to allow for both protection and use, (3) long-term monitoring and research, and (4) adaptive frameworks to allow us to learn from management actions, test alternate approaches, and re-adjust as either knowledge or systems change. Thus, EBM relies not on prescription, but on adapting a set of approaches suited to a particular context. Our aim [with this book] is to provide the bricks and mortar from which practitioners can build an EBM approach appropriate to their circumstances.”

From Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans, edited by Karen McLeod and Heather Leslie. Copyright (c) 2009 Island Press. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C.