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  • The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge’s vision is for New Zealand to have healthy marine ecosystems providing value for every New Zealander. It has seven research programmes, and each programme supports the development of a new way to manage our marine environment called ecosystem-based management (EBM).

    The Sustainable Seas Challenge’s working definition of EBM is: “a holistic and inclusive way to manage our marine environments and the competing uses for, demands on, and ways New Zealanders value them”. This definition may change as it co-develops EBM with Māori and stakeholders.

    Rights: © Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge

    Sustainable Seas Challenge EBM

    Developing ecosystem-based management (EBM) is at the core of the Sustainable Seas Challenge. EBM will help resource managers more effectively manage our marine resources and involve Māori, industry, communities and environmental groups in decision making.

    You can download a PDF of this diagram here.

    EBM – an explanation

    EBM, as a management approach, is an innovative way to manage marine systems. Because EBM is holistic and inclusive it is not a one-size-fits-all framework. The Sustainable Seas Challenge is developing EMB for Aotearoa (which has a 4 million square kilometre exclusive economic zone), but the way EBM is applied will vary to suit local requirements.

    The EBM approach has several characteristics.

    EBM recognises the many interactions that occur within an ecosystem – including humans – rather than looking at single species or issues in isolation. This differs to other approaches that are interested in protecting an individual species or dealing with a single activity at a time – sometimes at the expense of other species or activities. EBM acknowledges that trade-offs often form part of the framework.

    EBM recognises the value of co-operation. Coastal areas are often used by competing sectors – for recreational or commercial fishing, energy exploration or as wildlife sanctuaries. EBM encourages sectors to work together.

    International case studies have shown that successful EBM recognises the importance of and incorporates indigenous knowledge. To be successful, EBM for Aotearoa must be founded on mātauranga Māori as well as science.

    EBM: a remedy for Aotearoa’s oceans

    Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is a complex topic, this short, plain language video animation explains what EBM is and why it is needed in New Zealand.

    EBM and the Sustainable Seas Challenge

    The demands on and uses of New Zealand’s marine resources are increasing, so we need to manage our marine environments differently than we have in the past. Using EBM supports wide consultation and working side by side with Māori and stakeholders (government, business, community and environmental groups and others) and researchers.

    Even though Sustainable Seas is a National Science Challenge, researchers of all types are involved, including social scientists, economists and mātauranga, legal and policy experts. For EBM to be successful, the Challenge needs to:

    • be aware of what collaborative decision-making looks like and how to make it work
    • identify important institutional, social and cultural factors regarding marine resources
    • assess both the economic and non-monetary values of the marine environment
    • investigate how to foster and build trust in science and among the diverse people who work with Sustainable Seas.

    The Challenge’s biophysical research is focusing on:

    • marine ecosystems – how they work and services they provide
    • how ecosystems are connected and how they respond to change
    • stressors within ecosystems that can lead to tipping points and rapid changes.

    Sustainable Seas is developing a number of tools to support EBM. One tool is different types of models, including an extremely detailed ecosystem model of Tasman and Golden Bays. These models enable people to explore ‘what if?’ scenarios, possible outcomes of management decisions, trade-offs and more. And yes, there will be online and mobile apps for groups to use!

    EBM and Vision Mātauranga

    Each of the 11 National Science Challenges is underpinned by Vision Mātauranga. The goal is to “unlock the innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people to assist New Zealanders to create a better future”. EBM complements or aligns well with some important Māori concepts, such as kaitiakitanga. Appropriately incorporating mātauranga Māori is essential to the successful development of EBM for Aotearoa. The Sustainable Seas Challenge is studying international examples of incorporating indigenous knowledge into resource management to help inform EBM for New Zealand.

    Developing EBM

    The Sustainable Seas Challenge has some big numbers: 222 researchers from 36 organisations working on 40 projects (as of 20 November 2018). It’s rather like an enormous jigsaw puzzle – and all of the pieces fit together in EBM. The researchers are working with other interested parties to create a knowledge base to build and support an EBM framework for New Zealand and develop practical EBM tools that will help marine resource managers to make better decisions.

    The team is using Tasman and Golden Bays at the top of the South Island as a case study. Some of the projects explore marine ecosystem services, ways to protect aquaculture from ocean acidification and methods to better predict contamination risks to kaimoana, aquaculture and beaches. Other projects look at ways to enhance collaboration between Māori, communities, government and industry – keeping in mind the important role of kaitiakitanga/guardianship.

    Rights: Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

    NZ marine farm locations

    New Zealand’s key aquaculture areas. Aquaculture of mussels predominantly happens in the Marlborough Sounds and the Coromandel/Hauraki Gulf area.

    An ambitious task

    Sustainable Seas Challenge and EBM – it’s an ambitious task involving biophysical science, economics, mātauranga Māori, social science, law and policy. It is bringing together groups who haven’t always seen eye to eye, but that is part of the plan. Having everyone working together is essential to develop EBM that is fit for purpose in New Zealand.

    Most importantly, the end result needs to be useful and practical – that’s what makes it a challenge!

    Nature of science

    The ‘Participating and contributing’ strand of the nature of science is about students using their science understanding to contribute to their own lives and to society. EBM is a good example of this aspect of NOS in action. Sustainable Seas is consulting with Māori and stakeholders from numerous organisations. Ideally, participants will use the EBM knowledge and tools to help inform their discussions, and ultimately, resource managers will use them to make decisions about how to manage our marine resources.

    Activity idea

    The student activity Environmental thinking and planning with ecosystem-based management (EBM) uses EBM components to consider how a local area of significance could be managed, or it can form the basis for planning a local environmental project.

    Sustainable Seas collection

    See the range of content that we have developed using resources from the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge in this handy collection. Learn how to create, use and share collections here.

    Useful links

    The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website explains EBM as an integrated management approach.

    Visit the Sustainable Seas Challenge website to learn more about how it is developing and using EBM.

    The Sustainable Seas Challenge has created a set of cards that introduce key elements of kaitiakitanga. The 11 Hui-te-ana-nui: Kaitiakitanga cards are available to download here. If you would like hard copies of the cards please contact Sustainable Seas notes that the content included in the summaries remain under the guardianship of the original knowledge sources.


    This article has been developed using resources from the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge.

    Rights: © Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge

    Sustainable Seas Challenge

    The Sustainable Seas Challenge is one of 11 National Science Challenges funded by MBIE.

      Published 13 October 2017, Updated 12 June 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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