Marine Spatial Planning & Ecosystem-Based Management

Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is an integrated approach that considers entire ecosystems, including people. By considering the connections within and among ecosystems, EBM addresses the cumulative impacts of multiple activities across space and time. This comprehensive, ecological approach strives to ensure the continuance of services people want and need by maintaining healthy and productive ecosystems.

ELI is advancing ecosystem-based ocean and coastal management through innovative projects that focus on developing methods and tools for implementing EBM.

Implementing Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

Coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP) is a tool to implement ecosystem-based management. It can help protect, maintain, and restore ocean ecosystem health; reduce user conflicts; and foster sustainable development. To support implementation of CMSP, ELI is analyzing the legal authority for the process. This work includes two reports, both focused on legal opportunities and obstacles. See also our ocean industry and energy page for more information on state-specific analyses.

Implementing Ocean and Coastal Ecosystem-Based Management

ELI is advancing the implementation of ocean and coastal ecosystem-based management through development of law and policy tools. Drawing upon the experience of scientists, managers, and stakeholders, ELI has developed guidance materials that offer a spectrum of concrete ways to implement EBM. To further apply these ideas, we are currently conducting a targeted analysis of the legal and policy framework for cumulative impact assessments in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (publications forthcoming). ELI has also provided guidance to decision-makers and policy-makers on how to expand the use of EBM in the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Additional Materials

Ecosystem-Based Management in Practice

ELI is helping support regional efforts to implement ecosystem-based management.

National Ocean Policy

In July 2010, the President issued an Executive Order establishing the first ever national policy for our oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes. The Order created the National Ocean Council and incorporated the final recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force. As the Council has initiated efforts to implement the policy and recommendations, ELI has submitted comments on draft documents and related initiatives.

U.S. Arctic

Climate change is causing rapid environmental shifts in the Arctic. Simultaneously, there is growing interest in exploiting Arctic resources. In the face of these changes, ELI is working with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and others to empower local communities to develop effective, community-based EBM and CMSP in the U.S. Arctic region. These efforts will help ensure that marine ecosystems continue to support the critical services, including subsistence harvest, on which Arctic communities depend.


In an effort to protect and sustainably manage Hawai'i's marine ecosystem, ELI supported Conservation International's efforts to develop a multi-stakeholder strategy for the Hawaiian seascape. ELI's assessment seeks to foster stewardship, address threats to marine biodiversity, and maintain or enhance ecosystem services.

Eastern Caribbean

The Eastern Caribbean coastline supports a wide diversity of livelihoods in the region, but is also one of the most heavily impacted coastlines in the world. In collaboration with a local non-govermental organization called Sustainable Grenadines, Inc., ELI is working to strengthen marine enforcement and management in the region through the development of Marine Protected Areas and a framework for marine zoning and CMSP.