By Katherine Short
Manager, Marine Network Initiative Support, WWF International, Switzerland. E-mail:

There is a simple logic that creatures need a safe environment to breed, feed, and grow up, and objective science can provide the evidence in support of this. Such "safety" is needed both from direct impacts (such as fishing or dredging for shipping lanes) and from more diffuse impacts – as large as climate change or as insidious as invasive species arriving in ballast water. In addition to ensuring biological functioning, such safety is needed to also secure the resource base on which so many people rely, directly or indirectly, for food and livelihood. Providing such safety has proven difficult despite a wide variety of tools available and significant interest in accomplishing this important goal of marine management.

What is clear, though, is that engaging with stakeholders, ocean users, community groups, big international NGOs, governments, and indigenous peoples can produce longer-lasting objectives for less-damaging management and use. In its most concise terminology, this is EBM. In its longest form, it is varying scales, degrees, interpretations, and applications of the concept of ecosystem-based management.

WWF has been hard at work at both describing and promoting EBM, in both MPA and fisheries contexts. In 2007 it published an extensive set of case studies demonstrating EBM application (see Implementation of Ecosystem-based Management in Marine Capture Fisheries: Case Studies from WWF's Marine Ecoregions, available at It is great to see copies of the WWF framework well-thumbed and dog-eared around the world as these principles gain more definition and momentum from being applied in specific situations.

What the oceans need is concerted, orchestrated, strategic action and clear, orchestrated "sharing of the space" amongst those trying to work in this realm. This is what fished species need in order to recover the "pillars of life" that many of these species formed, once upon a time, in marine ecosystems. We all need to focus on a meaningful recovery agenda that brings all the relevant tools to bear: campaigns…boycotts…retailer engagement…Marine Stewardship Council engagement…marine protected area networks, specific marine reserves and no-take zones…comprehensive EBM and oceans-management approaches that cover all users…management of bycatch and discards…fighting illegal fishing…and ecolabels or industry codes of practice that are stepping stones on the path to improvement.

These are all just tools in a toolbox that can sit unused without the guiding power of objectives shared by those who care about a given ecosystem, species, seafood commodity, or area.

It is high time for all of us together to use the space that EBM gives us to set these recovery objectives collectively with those in science, government, and industry with organizing bodies such as the new World Ocean Council. Some areas should be recognized and protected for their key role in regenerating entire areas and/or species rather than as species- or place-specific "pet projects" of one group or another that can be ignored by the rest, or that are sacrificed by industries that then block further efforts at protection. These areas need to be part of well-designed networks that support constructive efforts to bring user groups onside, and to empower participants to embrace change for good. Only then will such change offer a sustainable future for both maritime users and the marine environment.