Marine biodiversity refers to the variation of life at all levels and is much more than just a count of species. Marine biodiversity decline is occurring across the globe and is characterized not only by extinctions (sometimes local), but also by invasions and hybridizations, reductions in the abundance of some species, degradation of habitats and changes in ecosystem processes (e.g. cycling of water, nutrients and energy).

The major threats and causes of marine diversity can be categorized as (i) unsustainable resource use, (ii) land-based impacts, (iii) coastal and marine pollution, (iv) introduced invasive species and (v) climate change. All these pose major risks in tropical seas where the high biodiversity in the past has allowed the tropical ecosystems to provide more services with less variability than more temperate systems.

There is a strong link between better resource management and better biodiversity outcomes. With the introduction and acceptance of the concept of sustainable development, a way was opened up to ensure that human development did not impact irreversibly on the physical environment, thereby preserving biodiversity for future generation so that they could also enjoy the services that healthy ecosystems can provide. Along with the concept came a range of “approaches,” many of which developed in parallel by different sectors and disciplines. Because they were all developed to promote sustainable development there is considerable agreement on principles and management tools. This article proposes a course of action through an ecosystem approach for planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation that better integrates both ecosystem and sector management tools for more integrated management.

There have been so many failures and biodiversity continues to decline. Several reasons for these failures are grouped under four pillars that are considered essential for successful resource management. These are: (i) enabling policy/legislative environment, (ii) good governance and institutions, (iii) full participation and (iv) adequate resources-people and finances to implement the management system. The use of large marine ecosystem management, exemplified by the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Project, is put forward as an approach that can address some of the issues that jeopardize success.

Introduction

There are many definitions of “biodiversity,” but for this article we define biodiversity as the variation of life at all levels, ranging from genes to ecosystems. Biodiversity, therefore, is more than just a count of species and biodiversity decline is characterized not only by extinctions (sometimes local), but also by invasions and hybridizations, reductions in the abundance of some species (e.g. removal of top predators by fishing), degradation of habitats and changes in ecosystem processes.

In this article we explore the link between biodiversity and resources management and look at ways to strengthen resource management to provide better biodiversity outcomes. The Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) approach is also introduced as one approach that overcomes some of the constraints to better resource management inherent in more sectoral and local approaches, using as an example the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) Project.

Marine biodiversity concerns

Declining marine biodiversity is a major global concern. However, this is difficult to demonstrate globally at the species level. The recently published marine census 2010 states that there are at least 224,000 species known to man (Census of Marine Life, 2010). New species are still being discovered and, when the entire ocean has been explored, it is predicted that the total will reach one million.

At a regional and local scale, evidence for declining biodiversity is easier to obtain. For example, recent reviews have shown that human impacts have depleted more than 90% of formerly important species, destroyed more than 65% of seagrass and wetland habitat, degraded water quality, and accelerated species invasions in a number of estuaries (Lotze et. al., 2006). Major changes have occurred to coral reefs (Pandolfi et al., 2003), historical overfishing has resulted in collapse of coastal ecosystems (Jackson et al., 2001), and global fisheries, in general, are in a poor state (Worm et al., 2009).

The consequences of this declining biodiversity in marine ecosystems across the globe are largely unknown. Recent studies have suggested that these declines are increasingly impairing the ocean's capacity to provide food, maintain water quality and recover from perturbations (Worm et al., 2006). Tropical oceans typically enjoy high diversity; it is this characteristic that has allowed these ecosystems to provide more services with less variability than more temperate systems in the past. However, although the tropical and sub-tropical waters appear to be able to withstand higher levels of exploitation compared with that of more temperate regions, in the future loss of biological diversity will have serious economic and policy implications and will affect a large proportion of the world's population.

The major threats and causes of marine diversity decline can be categorized as:

  • Unsustainable resource use

  • Land-based impacts

  • Coastal and marine pollution

  • Introduced invasive species

  • Climate change

Management solutions and constraints

All these above causes and threats can be managed to reduce their impact; and according to recent studies, many of the current negative trends are still reversible. The ecosystem approach is now accepted as the management approach applicable to large-scale issues such as biodiversity decline. This term was first coined in the early 1980s, but found formal acceptance at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 where it became an underpinning concept of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that defined it as: ‘A strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.’ The application of the ecosystem approach helps reach a balance of the three objectives of the CBD: conservation; sustainable use; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

In the marine environment many forms of the ecosystem approach have emerged. These include: Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF), Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture (EAA), Ecosystem-based Management (EBM), Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA), Integrated Coastal Management (ICM), Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) and Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) management, to name a few. These were developed in parallel by different sectors/disciplines, and because they were all based on the concept of sustainable development, all have the same principles, the two main differences among them being (i) the priorities placed on the balance between ecological well-being and human well-being, and (ii) the number and scope of sectors being considered.

The ecosystem approach has the potential to contribute positively to biodiversity, governance and human well-being, including social development and poverty alleviation. For example, addressing both human and ecological well-being, the EAF combines two concepts: that of conserving biodiversity, ecosystem structure and functioning, and that of fisheries management dealing with providing food, income and livelihoods for humans. These areas can be further subdivided into policy objectives and issues which need to be addressed (APFIC, 2009; Staples and Funge-Smith, 2009). Translating high-level policy goals on EAF into operational objectives and actions is now the key challenge to sustainable fisheries, and guidance on this matter can be found in various FAO publications (FAO, 2003, 2005; De Young et al., 2008).

In practice, because the world is structured along sectoral lines, including government organizations and agencies (e.g. agriculture, forestry and fisheries; mining and petroleum; environment; shipping and maritime affairs), sectoral management is still the core management approach and many tools are available for its implementation (e.g. reduced fishing effort and capacity and responsible fishing gear and practices to manage fisheries, waste treatment technologies and standards and practices to prevent introduction of alien species to manage environmental concerns). There are also a number of broader ecosystem level tools, including zonation, protecting biodiversity by seasonal and/or spatial closures (e.g. by introducing marine protected areas (MPAs) in selected areas), modifying habitat and restoration, culling and restocking and enhancing of stock. The ecosystem approach, if applied appropriately, results in a combination of sectoral and ecosystem management tools, but integrates these at the planning and monitoring and evaluation steps in the policy cycle (Figure 1).

Although often called “ecosystem management,” the ecosystem approach is really a combination of ecosystem-based planning and monitoring/evaluation plus sectoral management with an added component of environment protection and conservation that cuts across all sectors. Sectoral management will remain a reality as long as government institutions and agencies remain organized and structured along sectoral lines. Planning should be carried out at the ecosystem level and across sectors. In that process, the roles and responsibilities of the different sectors are established and they become responsible for implementation (in this framework, environment is considered as a sector). Monitoring and evaluation of the performance, outcome or impact of management, using a suite of (ecosystem health) indicators, is then also carried out at the ecosystem level. Feedback loops link monitoring and evaluation with both sectoral implementation and the broader planning process.

Improving resource management

If we have the concepts, approaches and the tools, why is marine biodiversity still declining? Past experience with both successful and failed resource management in tropical waters has highlighted four critical factors or pillars for success (Figure 2), viz:

  • (i.) an enabling policy/legislative environment

  • (ii.) good governance and institutions

  • (iii.) full participation of stakeholders and

  • (iv.) adequate resources—people and finances to implement the management system.

Enabling policy/legislative environment

Enabling policies and legislation need to be in place at all levels of government and non-government, starting with global conventions and agreements, which need to be ratified by national governments and incorporated into national policies and legislation. At the national level, States also need sound goals and policies (e.g. the constitution, 5–10 year plans, etc.) and legislation to achieve national goals that include global commitment. These should be harmonized across sectors and rules and regulations to implement the policies and laws put in place. Noting that many States will have both formal policies and laws developed through government processes, as well as informal policies formulated under customary law, there is an obvious need for some degree of harmonization between these.

A common failing in many States is to simply leave policies and legislation at the high level policy or strategic level. For management to occur, these need to be translated into operational objectives at a level where management intervention can be effective (Figure 3). This process will often need the formulation of operational management plans within each sector, to complement more strategic plans and policies. For example in fisheries, fishery management plans (FMPs) are required for each major fishery, and where fish stocks are shared across State boundaries (trans-boundary), a joint FMP between two or more States will be required. Attention is also required to prevent or avoid logical disconnects between high level policy goals, strategic objectives, and action plans.

Good governance and institutions

When appropriate structures are in place, coordinating mechanisms will also be required to bring the different stakeholders together, especially in the planning process. Horizontal coordination across government agencies, NGOs, associations, community organizations and vertical linkages to link local communities through to national institutions will be required.

The governance of compliance requires special mention as this is often the weak link in the management chain. Although obvious, the fact that there is a basic need for law and order within a country is often overlooked. In developing countries where adequate staff and facilities are not in place in a general sense, expecting better resource management in terms of compliance is not realistic. Adequate salaries and other incentives such as an attractive career path for compliance staff are fundamental. The “informal” economy in many developing countries where protection and turning a blind eye to rules and regulations can be bought, needs to develop to a point where law and order is part of the society.

There is also a need for compliance systems that provide both incentives and disincentives to comply with rules and regulations. Through better participation, self-regulation and compliance can be developed and is probably the ideal arrangement, but will not make a credible enforcement capacity unnecessary or superfluous.

Full participation of stakeholders

Full participation is required at all steps in the policy cycle (planning, implementation, monitoring/evaluation). This should involve all stakeholders in decision making and move beyond “consultation” where stakeholders are simply informed of government decisions. This participation in decision making is the key to co-management that is the partnership of government with other stakeholders in managing the resource.

Systems need to be set up to ensure effective communication both horizontally and vertically. Of particular importance in developing countries is the need to empower the disadvantaged. In a tropical seas context, these will often be coastal communities that are very dependent on the natural resources of the sea for their livelihoods. Including their knowledge into the decision making process is also critical.

In many cases, building human capacity will be required–both government and resource user. Capacity building must include “people skills,” especially communication that requires both effective speaking and listening, and the effective use of media and other communication tools.

Adequate resources—people and finances to implement the management

As in the case of governance, provision of adequate resources for management services requires a relatively well developed political/social system. For an effective system of income (e.g. taxes) that provides support to basic management services, an adequate level of compliance is needed. Private-public funding systems to pay for management (user pays) are also effective ways of providing the necessary resources. This obviously requires political awareness and incentives, but not perverse incentives that encourage short-term gains.

Human capacity building is an ongoing process that requires good educational systems, good teachers and the opportunity for all to participate in learning. In the vicious cycle of poverty and the need for subsistence that requires all members of the family to participate in livelihood activities, this will be very difficult to achieve. However, some improvement in human capacity at all levels is possible. With the move towards decentralization, a very critical gap is the capacity of province or district-level government staff to promote better co-management.

The score card

Based mainly on the experience of the authors in Asia, a rough score card of progress against the four pillars was compiled for this region (Table 1). The main areas for improvement are in the implementation of policies, laws, rules and regulations. There is a lack of focus on management services, especially in integrated planning and compliance. These services will improve as States become more developed with more stable political/social systems in place.

Large marine ecosystems

One approach that addresses several of the points highlighted above is large marine ecosystem (LME) management. There are two important features in the LME approach that should result in better natural resource management and biodiversity outcomes. First and foremost, the physical extent of the LME and its boundaries are based on biophysical and ecological, rather than political or economic, criteria. These are: (i) bathymetry, (ii) hydrography, (iii) productivity, and (iv) trophic relationships. The size and extent of the LME usually results in several countries being involved and trans-boundary issues being considered. Based on these four criteria, 64 distinct LMEs have been delineated around the coastal margins of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans (Sherman and Hempel, 2008).

The second important feature of the LME approach is the application of a holistic 5-module strategy for measuring the changing states of LMEs, and for taking remedial actions toward the recovery and sustainability of degraded goods and services. The 5 LME modules are (i) productivity and oceanography, (ii) fish and fisheries, (iii) pollution and ecosystem health, (iv) socioeconomics and (v) governance. In this way, all the important dimensions of sustainable development are covered and a system to monitor progress towards better management using a suite of indicators has been developed. The main constraint to a more widespread use of the LME approach is the parochial nature of many national governments who argue that their problems are national and should be addressed at the national or lower level. However, through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) support, recognition of the importance of regional sharing to address what are usually trans-boundary issues is increasing.

As an example of a LME approach, Maldives, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, are working together through the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) Project to lay the foundations for a coordinated programme of action designed to improve the lives of the coastal populations through improved regional management of the Bay of Bengal environment and its fisheries. The BOBLME project is a five year project with a total estimated budget of US$ 31 million. It covers five areas:

  1. Development of a Strategic Action Plan (SAP) to protect the health of the ecosystem and manage the living resources of the Bay on a sustainable basis to improve the food and livelihood security of the region's coastal population

  2. Improvement of Coastal/Marine Natural Resources Management and Sustainable Use

  3. Better Understanding of the BOBLME Environment

  4. Maintenance of Ecosystem Health and Management of Pollution

  5. Project Management, Communications, and Monitoring and Evaluation

Three main areas of concern have been identified and priority trans-boundary issues described (Table 2).

Through the Project it is anticipated that improvements in governance and policy development will occur and better processes for planning and dialogue will be developed. The project is aiming for improved resource management (co-management and multi-sectoral involvement), healthier ecosystems–protected critical habitats and maintained biodiversity, sustainable fisheries (especially small-scale fisheries), improved well-being and greater resilience of coastal communities and a better knowledge of the fisheries of shared fish stocks, BOBLME's large-scale processes and ecology, likely effects of climate change, and the development and application of basic ecosystem health indicators in the BOBLME.

Conclusions

The main messages coming from this article are:

  • Biodiversity is more than a count of species, and resource management is the process of reducing human impacts on both living and non-living resources;

  • Declining biodiversity can be reversed through better resource management;

  • An ecosystem approach is required–a combination of ecosystem planning and monitoring, with sectoral and environmental management;

  • Four pillars need to be in place to achieve better resource management:

  • (i.) an enabling policy/legislative environment

  • (ii.) good governance and institutions

  • (iii.) full participation of stakeholders

  • (iv.) adequate resources—people and finances to implement the management system.

  • The Large Marine Ecosystem concept is an effective integrative resource management approach to achieve better biodiversity outcomes. Implementation of the concept however, requires greater intergovernmental cooperation and will incur higher transaction costs to make it effective.

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