By Nathaniel Kinsey

Marine ecosystem-based management (EBM) goes beyond politically drawn lines and looks at the many factors that go into effective natural resource management. For example, marine ecosystems offer human society many services providing food, fuel, mineral resources, and even pharmaceuticals. These services are of high anthropogenic value and the hope of EBM is that it offers a holistic approach that can properly balance the demand on the ecosystem in a beneficial way. The holistic approach according to COMPASS, a team of science based communication professionals that work to communicate science at the policy creation point, includes the integration of “ Ecological, social, economic, and institutional perspectives, recognizing their strong interdependences” (COMPASS Scientists 2005).

Effective EBM strategies are currently being implemented among ecosystems within the California Current (see map). The California Current is known for strong seasonal upwelling that is influenced by two climate factors: the El Niño Southern Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. These areas of upwelling are recognized as areas of high biodiversity and have high ecosystem value, thus it makes sense to set the best system too properly manage the natural resources found there.

Nevertheless, there are several challenges that face EBM implementation. The first of these is clearly defining a vision and a list of objectives for the ecosystem. As many ecosystems cover large regional areas, like the California Current, there are many stakeholders involved in the management. For example while the states of Washington, Oregon and California have a governors’ agreement to work together on marine EBM implementation; they still face many differing coastal laws, political influences and environmental opinions. It will be sometimes be difficult for states to agree upon a list of common goals and objectives for the marine EBM. The second challenge is the lack of a national ocean governance policy framework. Ocean resources are managed by various organizations at the federal and state level. These agencies and organizations will have to cooperate effectively, which has proven to be difficult. Lastly, there are few examples of fully implemented marine ecosystem-based plans and their results. This lack of proven examples for this management style means that stakeholders are taking a risk by supporting the costly process of establishing marine EBMs (Leslie & Mcleod, 2007).

The task of establishing a marine EBM is a challenge, which at the very least requires cooperation at the state and federal levels of government, as well as stakeholder groups. Despite these challenges, the promise of effective marine ecosystem-based management strategies could provide a more sustainable, more economically prosperous future.

About the author: Nathaniel Kinsey recently graduated from the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science with a BS in Environmental Studies. In Fall 2012, he will begin a Progressive Master’s Degree in the USC Environmental Studies Program where he will focus his studies on watershed conservation and management.


COMPASS Scientists. (2005, March 21). Scientific consensus statement on marine ecosystem-based management. NOAA.

Leslie, H., & McLeod, K. (2007 ). Confronting the challenges of implementing of marine ecosystem-based managemnent. Frontiers in Ecological and the Environment , 5(10), 3-4.

Turner , E. (2011, February 16). U.S. global ocean ecosystems dynamics (globec) northeast pacific.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg,, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies

Previously in this series:

Catching Up with Scientific Diving at USC Dornsife: Surfgrass Monitoring at Catalina

Catching up with Scientific Diving at USC Dornsife: The Robot Submarine

Catching up with Scientific Diving at USC Dornsife: Diving into the Aquarium of the Pacific

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Moving Forward to Guam and Palau 2012

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Finding My Career Through This Course

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: The Devaluation of Ecosystem Services

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Why USC Dornsife was the Right Decision For Me

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Why Experiential Learning is Vital to Academic Life

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: My Walden South of Los Angeles

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Crown-of-Thorns Outbreaks and Anthropogenic Pollution

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: The International Policy Rationale for the Military Buildup on Guam and Some Environmental Drivers

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Marine Ecology from Antarctica to Micronesia

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Palau Water Supply

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: The Contributions of J. S. Haldane to Dive Safety

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Human Impacts on Mangrove Forests

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Global Sea Cucumber Fisheries

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Palauan Mermaids

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: The California Spiny Lobster

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: The Invasion of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: The Coconut Crab in Guam

USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: The Ordot Dump and Layon Landfill