Yellow fish and coral reef in the ocean in Birds Head Seascape, Raja Ampat, Papua, Indonesia.

Protecting the sea

Seascapes: a strategy for large-scale marine protection and management

© CI/Sterling Zumbrunn

It is often said that “everything returns to the sea.” For many people all over the world, they never left.

Millions of people in the coastal communities of countries from Indonesia to the United States to Ecuador and many more rely on ocean resources for their food, livelihoods and homes. Resources such as fish to eat or popular animals like whales to attract tourists must be managed carefully and sustainably.

But fish and whales don’t respect national boundaries. That can make effective management and preservation a challenge when different countries are connected to the same area of sea. That’s why Conservation International pioneered the Seascape approach, which brings together interested groups with a common goal: to protect a vital area of the sea. These coalitions include governments, communities and the private sector — and often Conservation International.


Why is it important?

Management at scale

Conservation works best when it is at scale — taking into account an entire area rather than dividing it up piecemeal, especially when that area has fluid boundaries. But managing at that scale is not easy. Seascapes are designed to be large enough to encompass different levels of government from the local to the national, but not too large to manage effectively. Having local support along with the reach and impact of government increases the likelihood of conservation success.

Focus on sustainability

While there are many competing interests involved in the management of resources — ecological, social, economic and institutional — these perspectives are all connected. Seascapes use sustainable practices — both the modern and the traditional — as key for integrating these perspectives and designing solutions to challenges in the environment. This allows governments, communities and local organizations to see the big picture and follow a sustainable development path, instead of reacting to immediate problems with no thought for long-term consequences.

A shared commitment

Thinking of a seascape as a whole, with its own name and gifts and needs, fosters the kind of cooperation that is necessary for its protection and sustainable management. Bringing together the best science with policy in a spirit of collaboration allows local champions and governments to share knowledge and communicate effectively. With this information, communities, institutions and local governments can work together — and value their priceless marine resources.

Our role

Conservation International is working to build coalitions among governments, communities and the private sector to improve ocean management at scale. The Seascape approach is under continual development, drawing on the collective practical experience and expertise of the many people and groups that have been a part of the program’s development since 2004. This clearly designed approach effectively merges community-based conservation with end goals known as “The 9 Essential Elements of a Functional Seascape.”

Working with local partners in eight countries, Conservation International has been instrumental in improving management in four seascapes: Abrolhos Seascape in Brazil; Bird’s Head Seascape in Indonesia; Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape in Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador; and Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Our goal with the seascapes model is to tangibly improve human well-being as well as the ecosystem. This focus on both the ecological and the socioeconomic requires a flexible approach. We support a long-term commitment to an area as well as building up local capacity among our partners so they can do what needs to be done. Working with coalitions of partners means more available resources, smart and effective teams built of complementary strengths and institutions that can stand the test of time.


© Will Turner

By the numbers

Working with 150 partners, 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) of sea have been protected and 22 million hectares (54.4 million acres) strengthened in four seascape areas: Abrolhos, Bird's Head, Sulu-Sulawesi and Eastern Tropical Pacific.


Our Seascape project sites


What can you do?

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