The Gulf of Maine Regional Ocean Science Initiative

Overview - Ecosystem-Level Management

A growing awareness of the interconnectedness of ecosystem functions and human activities has prompted new management approaches to ensure wise use and sustainability of coastal and ocean resources and services. We often take as a given that the sea will feed us, purify the air and water, support recreational uses, and be the recipient of our wastes without fully understanding how human and natural impacts alter the goods and services upon on which we depend.

Integrated ecosystem-level management implies a renewed commitment to balancing human activities with protection and conservation of natural systems and a growing awareness that some activities are not sustainable as they are currently practiced. Recent reports recommend development of Regional Ocean Science Councils to coordinate science-based actions that support integrated ecosystem-level management. Often data and information are not available to managers to answer the most basic questions (listed below) in ways that are useful to determine if individual or collective use will harm the environment.

  • How do we define and determine a healthy regional ecosystem?
  • What services do we think that the regional ecosystem provides, and how can we determine if our system will provide these services?
  • Can we predict the ecosystem's response to disturbance and determine the impacts of natural and human disturbances?
  • What information and tools are needed to manage the regional ecosystem?

Building on a history of regional coordination in research and management, the Northeast Sea Grant directors have created a Regional Ocean Science Council with a goal of developing a Regional Ocean Science Plan to support integrated ecosystem-level management. This plan will focus on the Gulf of Maine, a region that extends from the Canadian Maritime Provinces to Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, building on two or more decades of scientific and management collaborative efforts. The approach and process of developing the science plan is transferable to other areas.