Achieving the preferred future for our ocean ecosystems

Trevor J. Ward

The existing ways in which we manage our ocean ecosystems are, broadly speaking, not likely to be useful in the future. Many are based on a poor understanding of the way in which ocean ecosystems function, and most are unable to cope with our new levels of awareness about the fragility and values of the oceans. New approaches to management will need to be more integrated, more inclusive and consultative, and to have a broader base to ensure that the full range of ocean values is maintained in the future. In particular, the sustainable use of ocean resources will need to be evaluated using a range of criteria that focus on, amongst others, the integrity of ocean ecosystems. In Australia, a form of ecosystem-based management termed Integrated Regional Ocean Management has been proposed as the guiding framework for management of Australia's oceans and estuaries. Integrated Regional Ocean Management is defined as management framework that is spatially-based, hierarchical and inclusive, focussing on accommodating human uses that are consistent with the maintenance of ecosystem integrity and the human values attributed to ocean ecosystems. The central organising principle is the process of establishing comprehensive and agreed quantitative management objectives for the natural values (such as biological diversity) attributed to each spatially-defined ocean management unit. These objectives are used as the basis for defining environmental performance indicators, and the overall process should be implemented using continuous improvement approaches. In practical terms, actions are needed to design spatially-based and inclusive management arrangements that can effectively integrate and coordinate activities to ensure equitable access to resources, and that management objectives for ocean ecosystems are achieved; to establish agreed objectives for natural values such as biological diversity; and to develop the appropriate monitoring, evaluation and reporting activities for each management unit. Ecosystem-based management is likely to be the most effective way for conservation objectives for ocean ecosystems to be well defined, appropriately evaluated, successfully achieved, and be sustained in the long term.

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