The concept of an ecosystem approach has arisen largely as a management response to decline in biodiversity and natural resources, which single species management and primarily sectoral approaches had failed to stem. Because of its integrated nature, an ecosystem approach was seen as a way to better manage multiple impacts on environments holistically while maximizing long-term economic, social, and cultural bene benefits. The ecosystem approach also provides for the involvement of a wide range of users and other stakeholders in the management of a spatial area and resources, thus improving coordination and integration in activities.
Many different ‘ecosystem approaches’ exist, ranging from traditional/indigenous approaches to those more recently adopted by Western societies. The theory of how to manage using the ecosystem as the planning framework is still in its infancy and there is no one correct way to implement an ecosystem approach. However, certain principles apply to all current approaches. Perhaps the two bestknown concepts are the complementary ones in use by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (Garcia et al., 2003) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (UNESCO, 2000; Shepherd, 2008) with related biodiversity conventions. In practice, however, the most widely implemented approaches are in integrated coastal zone (sometimes area) management (ICZM) and integrated water resources management (IWRM), also sometimes expressed as river basin management (RBM). While not formally called ‘ecosystem approaches’, they espouse the use of a whole or integrated system as the base layer for all planning and management.
Approaches to management that use the ecosystem as a basis have become a central concept in the implementation of a number of international and regional agreements, such as those within the CBD (cf. CBD, 2000) and the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO, 2013), the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR; cf. Fabra and Gascón, 2008), the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR), and the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – among others.