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Developing an Effective Management Plan

History of Ecosystem Management

  • Resource management became a necessity as people began to overexploit valuable natural commodities such as fishes, forests, water, and game. Several ideas emerged during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that spurred the evolution of natural resource management toward a more ecosystem based management approach.[1]
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir developed a school of thought referred to as the romantic-transcendental conservation ethic through their writings in the nineteenth century. They saw nature as having an inherent value that was independent of human use as well as other uses besides human economic gain.[1]
  • Gifford Pinchot was the first Chief of the US. Forest Service and helped bring about a new concern for conservation at the beginning of the twentieth century. President Theodore Roosevelt assisted him by siting the issue as a high priority in his administration. Pinchot believed that management should be based on the utilitarian ethic of producing the greatest amount of good for the longest amount of time. This resource conservation ethic guided natural resource management throughout most of the first half of the twentieth century.[1]
  • Aldo Leopold introduced the evolutionary-ecological land ethic around the 1930s and 1940s. This perspective suggested that nature is complicated as well as an interconnected and functional system that has resulted from long-term evolutionary change. This contrasted with the traditional view that nature was a collection of parts distinguished based on their usefulness to humanity. He also believed that while nature was there to be used by humans, its fundamental structure should not be altered.[1] It is important to limit human intervention so as to maintain ecosystem health.[2]

Comparison of Traditional and Ecosystem Management


  • As management practices evolved throughout the nineteenth century, several differences between traditional approaches to natural resource management and the ecosystem based approach emerged.[1]
  • Difference #1: Traditional management places an emphasis on commodities and natural resource extraction such as the production of timber, fishery and hunting resources, agriculture, while ecosystem management balances commodities, amenities, and ecological integrity. Ecosystem management says that for the production of commodities and amenities to be considered in the long run ecosystems must be preserved and remain functional.[1]
  • Difference #2: Traditional management focuses on an equilibrium perspective of the natural world believing that ecological succession leads to stable climax communities. Disturbances are to be avoided because they supposedly push succession back to earlier stages. The ecosystem approach stresses the dynamic, non- equilibrium view of nature and also acknowledges that natural disturbances are necessary in maintaining resilient ecosystems. Shifting mosaics of communities across different habitats are to be expected instead.[1]
  • Difference #3: Traditional management takes a reductionistic approach and is site-specific meaning that oftentimes only one species within a certain geographic area is managed at a time. Ecosystem management is more holistic and emphasizes this by incorporating multiple species within a larger spatial context. Enter ecosystems are addressed, even looking past political boundaries.[1]
  • Difference #4: Traditional management relies on predictability and control to manage natural resources. This came about due to the West’s confidence in science and technology’s abilities to solve and control problems. Ecosystem management acknowledges that ecosystems come with a great degree of uncertainty and that human control is difficult. The ecosystem approach emphasizes flexibility and an adaptive approach to management, although this requires the involvement of many stakeholders.[1]
  • Difference #5: Traditional management tends to let solutions be developed by resource management agencies themselves. Ecosystem management prefers that solutions to management issues be developed through discussion among all stakeholders in order to avoid these decision-making agencies from being disconnected from society.[1]
  • Difference #6: Traditional management often results in confrontation, single-issue polarization, and the public is usually viewed as an adversary. The ecosystem based approach relies instead on consensus building to avoid confrontation, incorporation of multiple issues, formation of partnerships, and broad stakeholder involvement. Here the public is included as a stakeholder.[1]

Command and Control to Adaptive Management

  • The command and control approach uses technological ingenuity to manipulate nature in order to produce a desirable outcome, usually enhanced resource extraction. Successful command and control requires some knowledge of the system and a high probability that behavior can be regulated. This approach usually fails when applied to natural resource management, though. Ecosystems are too complex and uncertain to be able to predict how an ecosystem will respond to such treatment over various spatial or temporal scales.[1]
  • Failure #1: On the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona, a command and control approach was implemented to increase mule deer populations. Natural predators were removed from the system, resulting in an explosion in the number of deer. Their food base was eventually destroyed with the population finally collapsing due to starvation.[1]
  • Failure #2: In the Pacific Northwest of North America, socks of salmon are declining. A command and control approach was used where hatcheries grew fish and returned them to rivers, but the system did not return to its former state. Instead, the declining natural stocks were further damaged and extinctions occurred.[1]
  • Also, when the range of natural variation in an ecosystem is controlled, it loses resilience. This means that after a disturbance a system may shift to a new state. [3] In other words, the system may not fare well in the face of new stressors. Therefore, natural resource management should attempt to retain natural variation within ecosystems in order to maintain high resilience. A more adaptive approach is necessary in which the management plan is constantly being revised and updated.[1]

Developing an Effective Reef Management Plan

  • In order to develop an effective reef management plan, coral reef MPA managers need to address multiple issues.[4]

Issues to Address


  • Harvesting Activities: Overharvesting and physical damage from fishing gear and techniques can result in the decline of populations and a loss of higher level organisms.[4]
  • Recreational Use: Recreational activities can be a source of disturbance for reef organisms, they can result in pollution of the reef environment, and anchors and divers can damage corals.[4]
  • Water Pollution: There can be a loss of light due to nutrient changes, direct toxicity can adversely affect marine organisms, and disease can be introduced to the reef environment.[4]
  • Coastal Development: This can result in increased levels of sedimentation, altered runoff and nutrient inputs, and loss of juvenile nursery habitat within coral reefs.[4]

Key Steps

  • Once these issues are addressed along with any other necessary knowledge of the proposed management site, then MPA mangers can move forwards with these steps.[4]
  • Establish short and long term goals: This will require continual assessment and monitoring, awareness of human use and impacts on the area, and necessary staff, facilities, and funds.[4] The ultimate goal should be long term sustainability.[5]
  • Establish basic operations of plan: Laws and regulations pertinent to the area should be enforced, basic information concerning safety and importance of reef ecosystems should be provided to visitors, and the condition of the coral reefs should be observed.[4]
  • Establish meetings with stakeholders: There should be regular meetings with local leaders and relevant interest groups.[4]

Other Important Aspects

  • Other important aspects of a successful reef management plan include but are not limited to enforcement, research, monitoring, education, and plan revision.[4]
  • Enforcement: Laws in place can help protect reef resources from harm while deterring future violations.[4]
  • Research: Various forms of monitoring that can inform MPA managers includes research on natural and human processes that affect reefs as well as research on the links between human actions and degradation of reefs. Research will be necessary to identify certain causes of reef stress.[4]
  • Monitoring: Monitoring provides early detection of change, allowing for responsive action.[4]
  • Education: In order to obtain public support for protection of coral reefs, the public must have knowledge and understanding of the area’s resources and management objectives. By educating the public they can then begin participating in helping to alleviate resource impacts.[4]
  • Plan Revision: To be successful, a plan must be periodically evaluated and revised to achieve the intended goals.[4]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Meffe, Gary K. Ecosystem management adaptive, community-based conservation. Washington, D.C: Island Press, 2002. Print.
  2. Lackey, R. T. (2001). Values, policy, and ecosystem health. Bioscience 51:437-443.
  3. Holling, C.S. and G.K. Meffe. (1996). Control and the pathology of natural resource management. Conservation Biology 10(2): 328-337.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 Tilmant, James. Coral Reef Protected Areas: A Guide for Management. Prepared by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Working Group on Ecosystem Science and Conservation. March, 2000.
  5. Botsford, L.W., et al. (1997). The management of fisheries and marine ecosystems. Science. 277:509-515.
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