This past May at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Washington, D.C., there was a symposium on the progression of ocean management – from centuries of unregulated exploitation to today's increasingly ecosystem-based policies and use restrictions. Amid this discussion, a debate arose over conservation. That is, what role should conservation play in today's policy-making? In short, the debate was whether conservation should be considered a "use" of the oceans.

The question is central to EBM. If a planner applies the same importance to conservation as to fishing, for example, this will yield a different result than if conservation were considered to be more important, or less important, than that use. The question surrounds many EBM negotiations with stakeholders, yet is rarely discussed in a straightforward way.

This month MEAM sought answers to it. We asked conservationists, resource users, and others the following question:

"In the context of EBM and the negotiations it often entails with stakeholders, should conservation be considered a use of the marine environment – similar to uses such as fishing, shipping, tourism, etc.?"

Here are their responses:

Conservation is a policy goal, not a use

Elliott Norse
President, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Bellevue, Washington, U.S. E-mail:

"Is conservation (of biodiversity) a use – no more or less important than other uses? No, whether we base the answer on logic or public policy.

"Conservation is saving for the future. That is true whether its purpose is veneration, learning, benefiting from ecosystem services, or benefiting from consumptive use. Use of biodiversity is possible because living things grow and reproduce, analogous to capital that generates interest that humans can use sustainably. That is why some environmentalists, scientists, animal rights people and fishermen can all legitimately claim to be conservationists. Because use is only one of the reasons for conservation, conservation is a level above use and these other purposes in the logical hierarchy. Thus, logically, conservation is not a use.

"Conservation is an overarching policy goal because publicly owned resources are a public trust to be managed for the benefit of society. Individual fishes or fish species do not belong to fishermen, but to the public. The same is true at lower (genetic) and higher (ecosystem) levels of biodiversity. To the extent that humans can claim ownership of biodiversity, we must conserve it to benefit the public. Because only some people are consumptive users, but all benefit from conserving biodiversity, conservation is not a use."

Conservation is a use when it justifies transferring benefits from one group to another

Nici Gibbs
Policy Manager, New Zealand Seafood Industry Council, Wellington, New Zealand. E-mail:

"Conservation is an essential part of any effective sustainable management regime. As with other management measures, conservation measures should be scientifically justified and "optimal" in a regulatory sense (i.e., the lowest-cost intervention to meet the management objective). It is artificial to consider conservation, when applied in this 'wise use' sense, as a separate use of the marine environment.

"However, the term 'conservation' often refers to, or is used to justify, the protection or preservation of an area or characteristic of the marine environment irrespective of any risks or adverse effects arising from other uses. In these cases conservation should be considered as a separate use of the marine environment. It is, in effect, a transfer of benefits from an existing set of (sustainable) extractive uses to a new set of uses and values. Reallocations of this type need to be negotiated with existing users so that the transfer is transparent and the resulting decision is economically efficient and socially acceptable."

Conservation is a restraint, not a use

Carl Safina
President, Blue Ocean Institute, East Norwich, New York, U.S. E-mail:

"Conservation is not a use. It is a restraint that facilitates many kinds of use in perpetuity."

Conservation is a use that underlies all other uses

Barry Gold
Lead, Marine Conservation Initiative, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Palo Alto, California, U.S. E-mail:

"In the context of marine spatial planning, conservation should be considered a use of the marine environment. Critics of this view will argue that by relegating conservation to a use, it will be too easy to marginalize as just one use at the table. I would respond by saying that conservation is already seen as a special interest of conservationists and something that takes benefits away from other users. However, it is increasingly clear that adequate protection and maintenance of ecosystem function must underlie the ecosystem goods and services sought by many of these other ocean users. Unless scientists and practitioners can convince ocean users that conserving ecosystem structure and function is fundamental to obtaining the ecosystem goods and services people desire, our opportunity for progress is limited.

"A solid understanding of the cumulative impacts of human uses on the marine ecosystem is imperative within any marine spatial planning process. By considering conservation as a use within a marine spatial process, we provide stakeholders with a proactive approach that considers trade-offs between levels of conservation and other uses within an ecosystem goods and services framework. Such an approach can allow stakeholders to examine different portfolios of uses, the degree of sustained ecosystem function and resiliency they provide, and the sustainable wealth (aesthetic, cultural, and financial) from oceans that they create. The future of ocean management lies not in simply carving up the pie differently, but considering how uses are interdependent and the trade-offs that result from choosing one activity over another."

Conservation and nature need to be defined first

Cora Seip-Markensteijn
Policy officer for nature and spatial planning, Dutch Fish Product Board, Netherlands. E-mail:

"In principal, conservation and 'other' uses should be able to co-exist. However, if those other uses conflict heavily with intended nature conservation and no mutually beneficial solution can be found, then considering conservation as a separate use can be a solution. In that case, conservation and nature need to be defined first in order to be regarded as a use on their own. This raises the question of who will represent conservation. Should it be the government, or will it be left to nature organizations?"

Conservation proponents should view selves as users

Fanny Douvere and Bud Ehler
UNESCO Initiative on Ecosystem-based Marine Spatial Planning, Paris, France. E-mail: and

"Conservation should be considered a use of the marine environment – a use that has spatial and temporal requirements. Proponents of conservation should recognize that the sea is heterogeneous and that some places are more important than others. Conservation often begins, for example, with the identification of biologically or ecologically important areas. However, no assurance exists that these important areas will be designated for conservation, or managed effectively over time.

"Conservation must be able to compete with traditional uses of the sea (including fishing and marine transport) and new uses (offshore wind farms, mariculture) in government processes such as marine spatial planning that are being used increasingly to plan and allocate space in marine areas. If conservation interests do not participate in the planning and allocation process as important users of the marine environment, they run the risk of being left out completely."

Whether conservation is a use depends on context

Ian Ball
Australian Antarctic Division, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts, Tasmania, Australia; also the original developer of Marxan planning software. E-mail:

"There are a number of reasons why it could be sensible to consider conservation a marine use similar to uses such as fishing or shipping. It is a management use with specific objectives that could be compatible with other uses such as tourism or types of fishing, depending on the conservation objectives.

"However, the specific effect of considering a separate use will depend entirely on the context of the management process being used. There are unique aspects to conservation that cannot be ignored. A one-year moratorium on fishing or tourism, for example, makes more sense than a one-year moratorium on conservation."