Society reaps tremendous benefits from the world’s oceans and coasts. The main human activities that generate this income and employment include marine transportation and trade, fisheries, tourism and recreation, and mining. These activities draw people to settle in and visit coastal areas. As a result, the coasts are becoming increasingly crowded and the associated anthropogenic impacts have emerged as a significant concern. Nonpoint source pollution has increased as human activities have grown in coastal areas, causing nutrient enrichment, hypoxia, harmful algal blooms, toxic contamination, and other problems that plague coastal waters. Problematic point sources of pollution include sewer system overflows, septic systems, wastewater treatment plants, animal feeding operations and industrial facilities. It is abundantly clear that if these impacts are not managed, the ecological integrity and quality of marine and coastal habitats will be compromised. This will reduce their productivity and provisioning of services thus compromising jobs and income, and human health.

Using an integrated approach to ecosystem management involves managing for and balancing multiple objectives under potentially conflicting circumstances and includes management of multiple species, sites and services. An integrated management plan combines objectives for the protection and conservation of ecologically important sites, key species, sustainable fisheries, key habitats and the management of threats such as oil spills and maritime traffic in a prescribed area or space. Using an ecosystem services perspective is a key component of EBM and important for planners and managers when establishing priorities for management. Priorities can be determined by focusing on the areas and habitats that deliver the greatest amount of ecosystem services, or the ecosystem services of highest value. Here, ecosystems are valued not exclusively for the basic goods they generate (such as food or raw materials) but also for the important services they provide (including clean water and protection from natural disturbances), while incorporating their economic, social, and cultural values. EBM requires identifying and addressing cumulative and at times additive or synergistic impacts of various activities that might affect the ability of an ecosystem to maintain healthy, productive, and resilient3. Analyzing impacts according to their causes allows for a tailored management response, while the suite of management responses taken under EBM needs to be considered as a whole, with management choices evaluated as trade-offs when they overlap.

Furthermore, an essential component of EBM is maintaining and restoring connectivity between social and ecological systems, which includes recognizing connections among and between terrestrial, coastal, and marine systems, as well as between ecosystems and human societies is another key principle. A well-designed EBM plan involves all user groups, commonly referred to as stakeholders. It includes identifying opportunities for the engagement of local communities, industries, government and other stakeholders who benefit from the ecosystem services in the region. This is an essential part of EBM that is necessary to build an ecosystem focus into stakeholder perceptions and put the principles into practice. Finally, recognizing uncertainty and variability in dynamic ecosystems and embracing change, learning from experience and adapting policies throughout the management process is critical to best practice EBM.