The ocean is increasingly a busy, fragmented space where users compete for access and resources. It is a hub of economic activities and vital for the economies of ocean nations and the communities that exist along its shores. The ocean economy contributes $1.5 trillion in added economic value, provides fish for over a billion people, livelihoods for 3 billion, a transport channel for 90% of the planet’s goods and a source of renewable and carbon-intensive energy. This proliferation of uses creates competing demands and gives rise to conflicts between sectors, between people and companies and across timespans. On top of these combined pressures, comes the added challenges of climate change, pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic.

A business-as-usual approach will not deliver the long-term ocean health and wealth we need. What’s required is a balance between production and protection, people and ocean, and an improved response to the needs of all ocean users, now and in the future.

Five recent ocean management success stories described in the latest Blue Paper commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (the Ocean Panel, for short) –  from Norway, the United States, China, the Coral Triangle (SE Asia) and the Seychelles – demonstrates that delivering much needed long term ocean health and wealth can be done using integrated ocean management.

What is Integrated Ocean Management?

Integrated ocean management aims to support a sustainable ocean economy that uses ocean resources in ways that preserve the health and resilience of marine ecosystems and improve livelihoods and jobs, balancing protection and production to achieve prosperity. To achieve this goal, brings together relevant actors from government, business and civil society and across sectors of ocean industry.

Integrated ocean management promotes environmentally sound economic development, protects coastal and marine habitats and biodiversity, provides ecosystem services and balances conflicting interests through spatial planning. This management approach also addresses:

  • conservation of coastal and marine habitats and biodiversity;
  • protection of the coastal and marine environment from land-based pollution, fisheries and tourism, and
  • ocean acidification and impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, ocean warming and deoxygenation, changing storm intensities and more.

By being both ecosystem and knowledge-based (see image below), can improve on current approaches by recognizing ecosystem and human interaction and connectivity, including land-sea interactions, and addressing pressures at their source.

Extensive, diverse experiences with integrated ocean management provide a wealth of models, best practices and guidance for success. Here are five success stories that show how this method works and the opportunities it offers.

1. NORWAY: Using Science to Balance Competing Ocean Uses

Like many countries, Norway regulates its major sectors — including petroleum, the environment, transportation, fisheries, aquaculture and minerals — individually. Reflecting the interconnectivity between the environment and human activities, the country decided to manage ecosystems holistically instead of by individual sectors and activities. To do this, Norwegian policymakers turned to integrated ocean management

By adopting this holistic approach, Norway brought together research institutes and agencies from various industry sectors to make ocean management plans that rely on regular, comprehensive, demanding scientific monitoring.

2. UNITED STATES: Managing Ocean Resources at Multiple Scales

To manage multiple layers of governance, the United States used integrated ocean management at the state, regional and national level.  Six coastal states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington, Oregon, New York and Connecticut — have developed ocean plans for state waters, which extend 3 nautical miles offshore. Multi-state regions defined mostly by ecosystems have worked towards integrated ocean management within federal waters (from 3 to 200 nautical miles offshore), in response to and consistent with a presidential executive order.

In doing so, the U.S. was able to define a research and science agenda that provide a common, quantifiable goal for more data to ensure that future plans would have the additional information needed to better inform decisions. This also allowed greater collaboration on budget discussions and prioritization of time and resources.

3. CHINA: Balancing Protection with Production in Xiamen

The port city of Xiamen, located on the west coast of the Taiwan Strait, faced environmental degradation, sea-use conflicts and ineffective management. The city implemented a new coastal management system in 1994, which highlights the role of an integrated coastal management leadership group consisting of the mayor and department officials and experts along with an ocean office in coordinating ocean-related sectors within aquaculture, transportation, construction and science and technology.

Over the past 25 years, Xiamen has greatly benefited in social, ecological, and economic dimensions. Socially, the adoption of an integrated ocean management approach has shifted all stakeholders’ perspectives on how to sustainably use coastal resources. Based on years of communicating practical schemes within the integrated ocean management framework, and the remarkable prosperity in Xiamen, citizens’ ocean literacy has been profoundly promoted. Ecologically, Xiamen was able to curb ecological degradation, resulting in the recovery of the Chinese white dolphin population in Xiamen waters. As a result of these ecological improvements, tourist numbers have increased from 5 million in 1996 to more than 100 million in 2019. Industry has also been able to flourish within the integrated ocean management approach, with year on year growth staying above 10%. New marine high-tech industries (biological pharmacy, science/education service, high-end equipment) have also grown in the region.

Xiamen has transformed from a tiny fish village into an international seaport city. The marine economy now has become the economic growth pole of Xiamen's future development.

4. CORAL TRIANGLE: Engaging Coastal Communities in Ocean Management

For most coastal communities, marine protected areas are often seen as serving environmental interests rather than human ones, a perception that alienates local communities and ends up marginalizing conservation. To overcome this challenge, the Coral Triangle region (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and East Timor) designed well-managed engagement processes that consider the cultural, scientific, societal, economic and political contexts to achieve strong local stakeholder involvement.

This action has enabled a greater connection between communities and the marine environment. In doing so, communities understand than integrated ocean management plays a critical role in sustaining marine and coastal resources, and addressing food security, climate change and marine biodiversity.

5. SEYCHELLES: Integrating Climate Uncertainties

Tropical coastal ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to climate change and a wide range of stakeholders depend on the goods and services these ecosystems provide. The Seychelles, an island chain 1,000 miles east of Africa in the Indian Ocean, was the first nation to participate in an ocean-based debt-for-nature swap. The agreement required incorporation of climate change adaptation into a marine spatial planning process to support their ocean economy goals. The Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan (SMSP) aims to address climate change adaptation, protect 30% of Seychelles’ waters including 15% in high protection status, and support the Blue Economy Roadmap and other national strategies. The SMSP covers the entire 1.4 million square kilometers (540,000 square miles) of the Seychelles’ Exclusive Economic Zone and territorial sea, demonstrating commitment to ambitious sustainable management.

Under the SMSP, the Seychelles has developed robust stakeholder engagement processes that facilitated active participation by interested communities, financing partners and government, leading the way on the integration of local and external knowledge to develop context-specific adaptation strategies.

These five case studies represent vastly different situations and contexts, yet all of them show key features of successful:

  • Harnessing science and knowledge
  • Establishing partnerships between public and private sectors
  • Strengthening stakeholder engagement
  • Improving capacity building
  • Implementing regulatory frameworks
  • Developing adaptive management systems

Achieving a healthy, productive, resilient ocean requires a holistic, integrated perspective on ocean use and management, and effective implementation of relevant national and international measures. This holistic perspective must also be brought to scale. The is a group of 14 heads of state or government committed to advancing a change in the way we manage the ocean, enabling us to protect, produce and prosper from ocean resources for generations to come. By providing the foundation to enable countries and regions of any economic status or geography to move towards a long-term vision of ocean health and wealth, that can meet the needs of the billions of people around the world, integrated ocean management is a centerpiece of the Ocean Panel’s agenda.

To dive deeper into integrated ocean management, including a full exploration of key success factors and opportunities for scaling it up, read the full paper here.