|“It provides a lot of insights and guidance, or suggestions for people struggling with implementing ecosystem-based management.”|
Ohio Sea Grant
What are the characteristics that make up a successful ecosystem-based management effort? An Ohio researcher who recently set out to discover the answer to that question has come up with the top 10 requirements for effective ecosystem management.
“Planning is the straightforward part of managing an ecosystem,” says Greg Wilson, associate vice president for research at Kent State University. “Implementation is the difficult part because that’s where you need to have all these pieces in place for success.”
To determine the key management characteristics that are important to success, Wilson surveyed aquatic ecosystem managers in Lake Erie, Puget Sound, Tampa Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and the Baltic Sea, all of which have adopted an ecosystem-based management approach.
“I think there are lessons to learn from the successes and struggles in these systems that can be applied more broadly,” says Wilson, who received funding from the Ohio Sea Grant College Program to conduct the research for his doctoral dissertation.
“It provides a lot of insights and guidance, or suggestions for people struggling with implementing ecosystem-based management,” says Jeff Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant.
More Accurate Reflection
Ecosystem-based management has long been cited as a solution to the combination of human activities on land, along the coasts, and in the ocean that are affecting marine ecosystems.
“For many years, we managed systems one species or one element at a time,” Reutter says, “but more and more we’re learning you have to manage the entire ecosystem.”
“Ecosystem-based management is a more accurate reflection of the real world,” Wilson says. “Obviously, people are having a big impact on these systems, and resource management decisions based on science have economic, political, and social implications. All of that needs to be taken into consideration.”
As more managers implement an ecosystem approach, Reutter says, studies like Wilson’s “will help us know what works and what doesn’t work and will allow us to hone in on and replicate those characteristics that make ecosystem-based management a success.”
Wilson conducted a Web-based survey of ecosystem managers of various types in the five aquatic ecosystems he was studying.
Respondents included aquatic scientists, fisheries managers, watershed managers, and those focused on the entire ecosystem. They worked for a variety of organizations, including government agencies, universities, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations.
Survey questions focused on the respondents’ involvement in ecosystem-based management, their area of focus, their perceptions of how the process was working in their area, and whether it was implemented voluntarily or was legislatively mandated. There were also questions about the condition of the ecosystem they were working in.
The survey was sent out to 985 people and had a 35 percent completion rate.
According to survey results, the most important element of managing an ecosystem is public engagement.
“Environmental appreciation, even though it’s difficult to measure, is an important factor in management. If people aren’t up on the science or don’t have a direct connection, they’re not likely to get involved and help preserve the ecosystem,” Wilson says.
He adds that “once the public is engaged and they become more educated about what is going on in their system, it helps people get on the same page, and it enables the process to move faster.”
There were a range of scores for public engagement in the five ecosystems studied. Tampa Bay received the highest marks, and Lake Erie received lower marks than expected.
Reutter notes, “We saw across the board that there’s still a pretty significant level of education that needs to be done.”
As a result of the survey, he’s renewing Sea Grant’s focus on explaining to people why Lake Erie needs to be managed as an ecosystem.
“What this really points out is that managing any of these resources has to start way up in the watershed,” Reutter says. “We can’t manage Lake Erie from Lake Erie, or the Chesapeake Bay from the Chesapeake Bay. We have to have a management plan that focuses on the entire watershed and that informs all the users within that watershed what we’re trying to accomplish and how their particular action impacts the entire watershed.”
Differences in Perspectives
Wilson categorized respondents in several ways to see if they had different perspectives of how ecosystem-based management was working. Across all the ecosystems, he found significant differences among groups of stakeholders about how successful they perceived the initiative.
Managers in government agencies and the watershed and ecosystem fields generally viewed ecosystem-based management as a success, but aquatic managers and those in academic and business fields didn’t agree.
“That’s an interesting insight,” Reutter says. “How might your background and profession change your opinion on whether ecosystem-based management is working or not? Again, that clearly shows the need for a lot more education and outreach.”
Another finding was that implementing ecosystem-based management in a large system is more difficult than doing so in a smaller one.
“This does provide some suggestions as to why ecosystem-based management worked better in certain locations,” Reutter says. “Some of it is simply the size and the complexity of the ecosystem.”
What was unexpected was that voluntary efforts were equally as effective as those that were legislatively mandated.
“I expected to see much more success for the regulatory programs,” Reutter says. “This may suggest that the best way for industries to avoid regulation is to take a lot of voluntary action to solve problems and avoid the need to be regulated.”
He adds, “There’s tremendous logic in the elements that the survey found make up successful ecosystem-based management. The bottom line for us as managers is to focus on those 10 things and ask ourselves how we’re doing and how we can improve.”
For more information on the Ecosystem-Based Management Survey, contact Greg Wilson at (330) 221-7296 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The top 10 characteristics of successful ecosystem-based management:
- Public engagement
- Strong leadership
- Communication among stakeholders
- Incentives for collaboration
- Cross-boundary facilitators
- Clear, measurable goals
- Science-based decisions
- Legislative mandates sometimes needed
- Adaptive management
- Sustainable funding