Ecosystem-based management and ecosystem-based adapatation

Ecosystem-based management (EbM) is an approach that acknowledges and works with an entire ecosystem, including humans as part of this. EbM approaches work towards a healthy, resilient ecosystem condition that provide ecosystem services to humans and biodiversity alike. EbM has a place-based focus of ecosystem-based management strategies; recognising and accounting for the interconnectedness within and between systems (such as air, land, and sea) and the species that exist there. EbM also integrates various perspectives such as ecological, Indigenous, social, economic and institutional ones, and their interdependencies. In Te Moananui Oceania, where ecosystems are already significantly affected by climate change (Friedlander, 2018), and dynamic island ecologies are interlinked, EbM is employed most commonly as a management strategy for fisheries, coastal zones, and protected marine areas. However, EbM suggests that these systems should not be considered in isolation, but as part of a wider ecosystem such as ‘ridge to reef or ‘whole ecosystem’ approaches (Carlson, et al., 2019).

Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is a related concept and refers to the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall strategy to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. It involves the sustainable management, conservation, and restoration of ecosystems to provide services that help people adapt to climate impacts. The primary goal of EbA is to increase the resilience of ecosystems and human communities to climate change. It focuses on reducing vulnerability and enhancing the adaptive capacity of both ecosystems and the people who depend on them. EbA has been used extensively in Te Moananui Oceania, and comes under the umbrella of nature-based solutions (Kiddle et al., 2021).

Both approaches involve participatory processes and stakeholder engagement to ensure that management practices are inclusive and effective.

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Name of NbS

Ecosystem-based management and ecosystem-based adapatation

Type of NbS

Management / social / political


  • Urban
  • Peri-urban
  • Rural
mage showing Fiji’s islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, and Cakaulevu (the Great Sea Reef) that shelters the northern shores. Image NASA public domain

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

EbM emerged in the past 20 years as a recognised term or specific strategy. However, Indigenous communities, including in Te Moananui Oceania, have been practicing methods of managing and sustaining the ecosystems that support them for generations. See customary resource management. For many, this form of Indigenous knowledge has been eroded by colonisation, urbanisation, and unsustainable development (Kiddle et al., 2021; Vierros et al., 2010). EbM can be seen as at odds with some components of traditional management systems, and careful acknowledgement and integration of context-specific practices should be made in order to maintain and uplift Indigenous ecosystem management techniques in hybrid with systems like EbM that interact with modern science, governmental and regulatory systems.

Climate change benefits
  • Biomass cover loss
  • Changes in phenology
  • Changes in rainfall
  • Coastal erosion
  • Coastal inundation 
  • Coastal salt-water intrusion into aquifers
  • Desertification
  • Drought
  • Flooding
  • Increased incidence/distribution of disease
  • Increased pests or spread of weeds
  • Increased temperatures
  • Loss of food production
  • Ocean acidification
  • Reduced air quality
  • Reduced soil quality
  • Reduced water quality
  • Sea level rise 
  • Soil erosion / landslide
  • Storm surge
  • Urban heat island effect
  • Reduced fresh-water availability
  • Wildfire
  • Wind damage

Ecosystem degradation, particularly in Te Moananui Oceania, has profound impacts on food production ability and other ecosystem services, like climate regulation, freshwater supply, and coastal protection. Ecosystems are responsible for regulating various cycles on which humans rely, including nutrient, water and energy cycles (Malhi et al., 2020). EbM, effectively a method of managing human influences on the environment rather than the environment itself, can mitigate and prevent further ecosystem degradation, therefore protecting ecosystem service provisioning, including food production (such as the maintenance of fisheries that many people in Te Moananui Oceania rely on for sustenance) (Munang et al., 2011). 

Better management overall of ecosystems prevents significant biomass cover loss, through the recognition that any excessive harvest is likely damaging to an ecosystem and therefore promotes resource harvesting and agriculture methods that avoid deforestation, the cause of most biomass loss. Equally, improved marine ecosystem health can show increases in marine biomass. Various ecosystems are responsible for filtering and protecting the quality of our environment, especially air, water and soil. Overall, recognising and managing ecosystems as holistic, variable and integral systems on which human change has profound effects (both climate-driven and otherwise).

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Waste management and sanitation
  • Empowerment / equality
  • Water security
  • Food security

Human health and biodiversity health and conservation are linked on large scales. EbM as a holistic system for managing ecosystems (albeit Western in origin and practice) then promotes this connection by recognising humans not as separate, but as a part of ecosystems, and managing change as such. Improving outcomes for ecosystems has economic and social impacts. For example, where economies like fisheries and tourism rely heavily on unique ecosystems, maintaining and restoring the health of these is of considerable importance.

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Biological control
  • Climate regulation
  • Decomposition
  • Disturbance prevention
  • Fixation of solar energy
  • Food production (for humans)
  • Freshwater
  • Production of fuel / energy
  • Genetic resources (diversity)
  • Habitat provision
  • Medicinal resources
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Pollination
  • Purification
  • Provision of raw materials
  • Soil building
  • Species maintenance

Protecting ecosystems that produce food, like reefs and forests, maintains food production for humans. EbM should be employed in ways sympathetic to customary food gathering practices, and in collaboration with industries like fisheries to ensure traditional practices are respected and social and economic need is balanced with management outcomes (Berkes, 2012). Instigating sustainable management practices means a number of ecological and biodiversity benefits result, especially habitat provision, genetic diversity and species maintenance (O’Higgins et al., 2020). Nutrient cycling, such as those which take place between ridge and reef in Te Moananui Oceania can be recognised and protected when people recognise ecosystems at their natural range and scale.

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Technical requirements

There is a need for clear partnerships between all stakeholders in order to successfully implement EbM (Haugen et al., 2024; O’Higgins et al., 2020). In Te Moananui Oceania, this might mean considering Indigenous perspectives as guiding principles when developing EbM strategies, as management structures contained in Indigenous knowledge likely already exist and can be diminished or eroded by Western policymaking (Slocombe, 1993). Sometimes, data on ecosystems is suggested to be a limited factor, so accurate, up-to-date, data is of importance when developing management solutions. Often this data exists but is inaccessible between industry sources (Aswani et al., 2012; Haugen et al., 2024; Reid & Rout, 2020).

What is EbM? Image from National Science Challenge: Sustainable Seas.

Issues and Barriers

Lack of political will and support or competing, conflicting interest in the management of ecosystems is a significant barrier to effective management, especially in Te Moananui Oceania, where local governments may have existing coastal management arrangements, and where Indigenous communities have practised customary management of terrestrial and marine ecosystems for generations (Aswani et al., 2012; Haugen et al., 2024). These issues might be remedied by collaborative approaches that integrate local needs, Indigenous values and practices in a locally appropriate way, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

Support, especially in terms of financial, staff, or training resources, is hard to establish. Many organisations receive only high-level support and fall short of providing the adequate resourcing required for robust EbM integration in policy. Equally, there potentially is a lack of understanding about EbM across policymakers, local leaders, key stakeholder organisations, and communities (Haugen et al., 2024). This might be due to a purported lack of data, or a lack of shared data, and insufficient connectivity across sectors that influence whole ecosystems. 

EbM is rarely communicated effectively, and there is a disconnect between science and the public realm. For example, key sectors active in Te Moananui Oceania such as oil and gas, tourism, shipping and renewable energy are not engaged with EbM priorities and competing interests among those who are stakeholders can hamper outreach and awareness. (Aswani et al., 2012; Haugen et al., 2024)

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One solution can solve many problems in the case of EbM (Haugen et al., 2024). There are opportunities then for increased understanding, collaboration, and stakeholder engagement as key avenues to resolve numerous issues. EbM is adaptive, participatory, and dynamic, and acts iteratively to respond to environmental, social and economic change. Where many policies focus on singular species or habitats or landscapes, EbM looks at systems holistically (Aswani et al., 2012). Overall, EbM simply offers the opportunity to integrate ecosystem conservation conservation and human management and provisioning needs.

Financial case

EbM can reduce the costs of restoration efforts (Haugen et al., 2024). EbM can be cost-effective over time compared to traditional management, by addressing the causes of degradation and promoting the protection of ecosystems, rather than just treating symptoms.  By incorporating the value of ecosystem services into decision-making processes, investment in conservation and sustainable management can be justified in purely economic terms, though in Te Moananui Oceania value determined just by finance misses larger cultural values associated with ecosystems.

  • Aswani, S., Christie, P., Muthiga, N. A., Mahon, R., Primavera, J. H., Cramer, L. A., Barbier, E. B., Granek, E. F., Kennedy, C. J., Wolanski, E., & Hacker, S. (2012). The way forward with ecosystem-based management in tropical contexts: Reconciling with existing management systems. Marine Policy, 36(1), 1–10.
  • Berkes, F. (2012). Implementing ecosystem‐based management: Evolution or revolution? Fish and Fisheries, 13(4), 465–476.
  • Carlson, R.R., Foo, S.A., & Asner, G.P. (2019). Land use impacts on coral reef health: A ridge-to-reef perspective. Frontiers in Marine Science, 6, 562.
  • Friedlander, A. M. (2018). Marine conservation in Oceania: Past, present, and future. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 135, 139–149.
  • Haugen, J.B., Link, J.S., Cribari, K., Bundy, A., Dickey-Collas, M., Leslie, H. M., Hall, J., Fulton, E.A., Levenson, J.J., Parsons, D.M., Hassellöv, I.M., Olsen, E., DePiper, G.S., Gentry, R.R., Clark, D.E., Brainard, R.E., Mateos-Molina, D., Borja, A., Gelcich, S., … Agnalt, A. L. (2024). Marine ecosystem-based management: Challenges remain, yet solutions exist, and progress is occurring. Npj Ocean Sustainability, 3(1), 7.
  • Kiddle, G.L., Pedersen Zari, M., Blaschke, P., Chanse, V., & Kiddle, R. (2021). An Oceania urban design agenda linking ecosystem services, nature-based solutions, traditional ecological knowledge and wellbeing. Sustainability, 13(22), 12660.
  • Malhi, Y., Franklin, J., Seddon, N., Solan, M., Turner, M.G., Field, C.B., & Knowlton, N. (2020). Climate change and ecosystems: Threats, opportunities and solutions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 375(1794), 20190104.
  • Munang, R.T., Thiaw, I., & Rivington, M. (2011). Ecosystem Management: Tomorrow’s approach to enhancing food security under a changing climate. Sustainability, 3(7), 937–954.
  • O’Higgins, T.G., Lago, M., & DeWitt, T.H. (eds.). (2020). Ecosystem-Based Management, Ecosystem Services and Aquatic Biodiversity: Theory, Tools and Applications. Springer International Publishing.
  • Reid, J., & Rout, M. (2020). The implementation of ecosystem-based management in New Zealand – A Māori perspective. Marine Policy, 117, 103889.
  • Slocombe, D.S. (1993). Implementing ecosystem-based management. BioScience, 43(9), 612–622.
  • Vierros, M., Tawake, A., Hickey, F., Tiraa, A., & Noa, R. (2010). Traditional marine management areas of the Pacific in the context of national and international law and policy. United Nations University – Traditional Knowledge Initiative.

Further resources