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Ecosystem Based Management

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The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge brings together a group of experts who are working on creating a new way of managing our marine ecosystems called ecosystem-based management (EBM). EBM takes into account all the uses and impacts on all parts of a marine ecosystem.


Our marine areas are not only important for plants and animals, but also for our economy, industries and people.

Marine industries include:

  • removal of resources – such as fish, oil and gas, and minerals
  • tourism
  • aquaculture
  • shipping
  • communications – such as undersea fibre-optic cables
  • recreation.

The New Zealand government looks after our marine areas and decides who can use marine resources. This can be hard because different people want to use marine areas in different ways.

Ecosystem-based management takes into account how different people and organisations use and value marine areas. EBM will manage impacts on entire ecosystems rather than just individual species. Image: Sustainable Seas Challenge.

Old ways of managing our seas are now in need of a rethink. We can no longer look at just some species or focus on one issue at a time. We need to look at:

  • all the links within an ecosystem
  • the impacts on the ecosystem
  • the way the ecosystem is used
  • the values the ecosystem has for people.

The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge brings together a group of different experts from scientists to lawyers to mātauranga Māori holders. The aim of this project is to not only improve the value of our marine resources but also to make sure that these resources do not run out. A new way of managing our marine areas will be created, called Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM).

To achieve this, the Sustainable Seas Challenge researchers are:

  • Finding out more about how marine ecosystems work, how they are interconnected and how people can affect these ecosystems
  • Talking with different iwi, organisations and groups to find out how they use (or want to use) and value New Zealand’s marine areas
  • Creating tools to help New Zealand better manage our marine resources for the benefit of all
  • Working with Māori, government, councils, industry and communities to create EBM that works for Aotearoa.

Ecosystem-based management for Aotearoa is based on the following principles:

  1. Group decision making – different organisations and communities are all able to take part in making decisions
  2. Sustainability – marine areas, values and uses are protected for the future
  3. Human activities – all activities from industry to recreation to conservation are taken into account as part of the ecosystem
  4. Adaptability – adapts to new knowledge, changing values and events
  5. Knowledge-based – is based on the best, most up-to-date knowledge and mātauranga Māori
  6. Tailored – to suit different ecosystems in different areas that are used and valued in different ways.

The Sustainable Seas Challenge involves research to better understand how our marine ecosystems work. Image: Sustainable Seas Challenge.

EBM is a work in progress. The Sustainable Seas Challenge is trialling EBM in the Tasman-Golden Bay and Hawke’s Bay areas because they have:

  • a variety of marine habitats
  • many different and competing uses, activities and interests


 Ready for a quiz? Try the Ecosystem Based Management interactive activity.

Find out more about the Sustainable Seas Challenge.

Audio Māori keywords:

What do you think some of the challenges would be in creating ecosystem-based management?