In 2004, Conservation International developed a practical new approach to improve the management and governance of our ocean at ambitious scales.
Seascapes are initiatives which implement the principles of ecosystem-based management in large-scale marine systems, building partnerships to conserve marine ecosystems and strengthen human well-being.
Seascapes provide habitat for a rich abundance and diversity of marine life, and they provide homes, food sources and incomes for millions of people. Recoveries in threatened species, such as marine turtles, and ecosystems, including coral reefs, have consequential benefits for people who depend on marine ecosystems for their livelihoods, food, protection, recreation and more. Seascapes also provide a framework to address the complex impacts of climate change on the ocean and people.
Seascapes are large, multiple-use marine areas, defined scientifically and strategically, in which government authorities, private organizations and other stakeholders cooperate to conserve the diversity and abundance of marine life, with the ultimate goal of promoting human well-being. Seascapes develop sustainable, multi-level governance structures to enable issues to be addressed in the most effective way; for example, migratory-species conservation often requires transboundary responses, whereas small-scale coastal fisheries may be best managed through highly localized community models.
Each of the nine essential elements of the Seascape framework must be strong; if any element remains weak, the success of the others may be in jeopardy. Seascapes are built upon networks of marine protected areas (MPAs). It is critical to ensure that legal frameworks are in place to support the management and enforcement of these networks, appropriate science is employed to enable an ecosystem-based approach to selecting sites, and the private sector, the general public and politicians are engaged throughout the process. And ultimately, financing sources are needed to sustain each Seascape to achieve the necessary changes in ocean health.
The success of the Seascape approach relies on partnerships with locally based organizations, governments and communities. Above all, the approach is flexible; it has already been tailored to fit a variety of cultural contexts and at different scales.
The 9 Essential Elements of a Functional Seascape
Enabling legal framework: Seascapes generate an enabling framework of laws, conventions, regulations and policies that facilitate marine conservation at local, national and regional scales.
Ecosystem-based management including MPAs: Seascapes advance large-scale management of marine ecosystems and species through the use of multidisciplinary scientific information to inform effective planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
Adequate institution and capacity: Seascapes build adequate institutional frameworks and capacity, including personnel, infrastructure, and equipment, to make marine governance structures (governmental, commercial and civil) work effectively and efficiently.
Private sector engagement: Seascapes promote convergence between conservation and development by linking the viability and profitability of major economic activities with sustainable management of the ecosystem.
Social and political support: Seascapes increase the social and political viability of marine conservation as an integral part of sustainable development, and they build broad support at all scales, from stakeholders in local marine managed areas to national leaders.
Maintenance and restoration of critical habitats and ecosystems: Seascapes maintain or restore critical habitats and ecosystems so that ecological processes and ecosystem services are sustained.
Threatened species recovery: Seascapes reverse declining population trends for threatened marine species.
Human well-being benefits: Seascapes improve the social, economic, and cultural well-being of human communities dependent on marine and coastal resources and ecosystems.
Sustainable financing and market mechanisms: Seascapes strive to be financially sustainable with funding portfolios that are stable, diverse, and large enough to implement all priority marine conservation activities.