Ecosystem Approach to Management

The concept of the Ecosystem Approach to management (EA) has been around for at least 30 years and has been extensively discussed, elaborated and developed. This approach is known by a number of different names; ecosystem-based management (EBM), ecosystem approach to management (EAM), or simply the ecosystem approach, EA, which is the term used here.

Arctic Council Ministers agreed in 2013 (Kiruna Declaration) to the following definition for EA:

"Comprehensive, integrated management of human activities based on best available scientific and traditional knowledge about the ecosystem and its dynamics, in order to identify and take action on influences that are critical to the health of ecosystems, thereby achieving sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services and maintenance of ecosystem integrity."
This definition has four parts:
1) it is explicit about management of human activities;
2) it is based on the best knowledge available about the ecosystem;
3) the purpose is to make appropriate and effective management decisions; and
4) the goal is to ensure sustainable use while maintaining ecosystem integrity.

EA explained

PAME is now past the stage where we discuss what it is and what it means and we are dealing with the next stage: how do we implement it in practice, in the real world.

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Six elements of the Ecosystem Approach
The Arctic Council has developed a framework for implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to management of human activities in Arctic marine and coastal environments. The EA framework consists of six related elements:
1. Identify the geographic extent of the ecosystem;
2. Describe the biological and physical components and processes of the ecosystem including humans;
3. Set ecological objectives that define sustainability of the ecosystem;
4. Assess the current state of the ecosystem (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment):
5. Value the cultural, social and economic goods produced by the ecosystem; and
6. Manage human activities to sustain the ecosystem.

While they are numbered, the elements do not necessarily need to be sequential although they are eventually linked in an iterative and adaptive operational management cycle. Monitoring is an essential component of EA as illustrated in the schematic representation of the framework (Fig. 1). Monitoring provides updated information of the status of ecosystem components and human activities and pressures, which is required for conducting an Integrated Ecosystem Assessment. Monitoring and assessment form in turn the basis for advice on the adaptive and responsive management measures needed to maintain or achieve the agreed ecological objective for the ecosystem. When implemented and established operationally, the EA represents an iterative cycle of monitoring, assessment, and adaptive management measures.

The relationship between the six elements of EA and the definition of EA is illustrated in the figure above. The EA is very much a foundation and mechanism for sustainable development, which is reflected in the dual objective of having use without compromising the integrity of the ecosystem.

EA Definition Explained

There is no single way to implement the Ecosystem Approach, as it depends on local, provincial, national, regional, and global conditions. Nevertheless, the common denominators described in these guidelines can provide a framework for delivering the objectives of the Arctic Council and its member countries. There is a dual meaning of “management” in the context of EA. It can be understood in a narrow sense as the sixth element of the EA framework, or in a wider sense as the whole EA framework with all six elements.


iStock 857940176Report on development in defining or setting Ecological objectives

As of the PAME 2021-2023 Work Plan, PAME has the objective to continue to integrate the ecosystem approach into assessments and management recommendations through follow-up to the 2013 EBM marine-related recommendations, taking into account previous work on Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs), and new and ongoing EA activities of cross-cutting nature.

The project will report on developments in defining or setting ecological quality objectives in the context of EA implementation in national and international processes.

Leads: Norway and the United States in close collaboration with the EA expert group


Concept paper on further cooperation under the Arctic Council on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM/EA) of Arctic marine ecosystems

The need for ecosystem-based management (EBM/EA) to ensure sustainable use and protection of the marine environment is widely recognized by the international community, the Arctic Council, and the Arctic States and Permanent Participants of the Council. EBM, therefore, is a suitable framework for efforts to enhance cooperation on Arctic marine stewardship under the Arctic Council. This concept paper explores the case for enhanced transboundary cooperation and coordination of Ecosystem Based Management of the Arctic marine environment. A set of actions will be proposed to develop such cooperation further in the coming four years.

The main activity of this project is to review the concept paper and provide input and further guidance to SAOs, including expert advice and recommendations to be discussed at the earliest possible SAO meeting of the incoming Russian Chairmanship. 

Leads: Norway in close collaboration with the EA expert group.

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