Photo: Erling Svensen

Ecosystem-based management

People are an integral part of the world’s ecosystems, which are therefore under pressure from human activities. Too much pressure can disrupt and damage ecosystems. Ecosystem-based management takes an integrated approach to managing nature and natural resources – and it is human activities that require management.

The concept of ecosystem-based management of the marine environment was first put on the agenda in Norway in 2002, in a white paper entitled Protecting the Riches of the Sea. Here, it was described as “integrated management of human activities based on ecosystem dynamics. The goal is to achieve sustainable use of resources and goods derived from ecosystems and to maintain their structure, functioning and productivity.”

The Malawi principles

The development and application of the ecosystem approach under the Convention on Biological Diversity is based on a set of twelve principles that were adopted at a workshop in Malawi in 1988. Participants included scientists and experts from universities, public authorities and interest groups.

Principles of ecosystem-based management

The following points have been developed from the Malawi principles, and provide a framework for putting ecosystem-based management into practice.

  • Management must be based on a shared vision, and must involve all relevant stakeholders.
  • Planning and management must be based on an integrated approach with clear goals, but must also be flexible enough to allow changes to be made in the light of new knowledge.
  • The management regime for an area or ecosystem must take into consideration any impacts it might have on neighbouring areas or ecosystems.
  • One of the main goals of management is to conserve ecosystem structure and functioning. The management of different species and habitats must therefore be coordinated.
  • Management goals must ensure sustainable use and development and must reflect societal choices.
  • Decisions must be made about society’s aims for ecological status expressed in terms of ecosystem structure and functioning.
  • Management must be based on the precautionary principle, the user-pays principle and the principle of preventive action. The best available techniques (BAT) and best environmental practices (BEP) should also be applied.
  • Coordinated monitoring and assessment programmes and implementation and control and enforcement systems must be developed.

The role of the Norwegian Environment Agency

The Ministry of Climate and Environment has made the Environement Agency responsible for further developing an integrated, ecosystem-based management regime for Norway’s coastal and marine areas and for putting it into practice.

The different sectors – fisheries, maritime transport, oil and gas and so on – are responsible for ecosystem-based management within their own spheres of responsibility, while the environmental authorities have the overall responsibility for coordination so that the cumulative environmental effects all sectors are taken into account.

Ecosystem-based management in practice

Recent Norwegian legislation such as the Nature Diversity Act and the Water Management Regulations is based on an ecosystem approach to management. The three integrated management plans for Norway’s sea areas are good examples of how ecosystem-based management can be put into practice.