Fernandina, the westernmost Galapagos Island.

Seascapes Program

Protecting, managing and restoring exceptional marine areas for the communities and biodiversity that rely on them


The ocean — and the species within it — do not adhere to geographic boundaries. Conservation International’s “seascapes” approach offers a way for governments, communities, civil society and the private sector to work together to protect and sustainably manage large oceans and coastal areas across boundaries.

Since 2004, this approach has been applied in five locations, covering more than 100 marine protected areas and protecting a staggering amount of the world's marine biodiversity: Despite covering just 1.2 percent of the global ocean, these five seascapes are home to 93 percent of the world’s hard coral species, 63 percent of reef fishes, 51 percent of cetaceans, 37 percent of sharks, and all turtle species.

Conservation International’s seascapes approach builds local partnerships and implements interconnected programs that protect, manage, restore and sustain biodiversity across places that are important to nature and people.


We explore "seascapes,” an approach to ocean conservation, which helps countries balance protection and production for the marine ecosystems they depend on. LEARN MORE: https://www.conservation.org/blog/what-on-earth-is-a-seascape


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. Working with local partners in eight countries, we have been instrumental in improving management in five seascapes:

The seascapes model aims to tangibly improve ecological and socioeconomic outcomes. This requires a flexible approach to implement long-term commitments and support conservation led by local communities. Working with coalitions of partners enables more resources to be mobilized, creates teams with complementary strengths and fortifies these institutions.

Our vision

Building on our impacts and partnerships, Conservation International aims to scale its seascapes program to revitalize marine life in new regions with exceptional biodiversity. This includes deepening our work in our five priority seascapes — as well as expanding seascape approaches in new critical regions to ensure the long-term resilience of communities and marine biodiversity.

Conservation International's seascapes program includes four pillars of conservation planning and implementation:

Protecting intact reservoirs of high biodiversity in well-managed protected areas, layered with other effective area-based conservation measures.
Managing human activities (such as fisheries, tourism and aquaculture) to minimize impacts to species and habitats, while sustaining food and livelihood security.
Restoring degraded ecosystems (such as reefs and mangroves) to restore key biodiversity, habitat, species and ecosystem services.
Developing diversified financing, guiding capacity building and scaling regional governance and policy mechanisms.

Essential elements of a functional seascape

© Cat Holloway
1. Create enabling conditions through legal frameworks
Seascapes generate an enabling framework of laws, conventions, regulations and policies that facilitate marine conservation at local, national and regional scales.
© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn
2. Create enabling conditions through adequate institutions
Seascapes build adequate institutional frameworks and capacity, including personnel, infrastructure, and equipment, to make marine governance structures (governmental, commercial and civil) work effectively.
© Kevin Davidson
3. Create enabling conditions through social and political support
Seascapes increase the social and political viability of marine conservation, and they build broad support at all scales, from stakeholders in local marine managed areas to natural leaders.
© Cat Holloway
4. Build effective management through 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.
© Keith A. Ellenbogen
5. Build effective management through ecosystem-based management
Seascapes advance large-scale management of marine ecosystems through the use of multidisciplinary scientific information to inform effective planning, implementation and monitoring.
© Gary Stokes
6. Build effective management through 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.
© Luciano Candisani/iLCP
7. Generate outcomes through maintenance and restoration of priority habitats and ecosystems
Seascapes maintain or restore critical habitats and ecosystems so that ecological processes and ecosystem services are sustained.
© Cristina Mittermeier/sealegacy
8. Generate outcomes through threatened species recovery
Seascapes reverse declining population trends for threatened marine species.
© World Wildlife Fund, Inc. / Matthew Abbott
9. Generate outcomes through human well-being benefits
Seascapes improve the social, economic, and cultural well-being of human communities dependent of marine and coastal resources and ecosystems.

Why is it important?

Management at scale

Marine ecosystems and the species that flourish within them have fluid boundaries, and management of such areas is not easy. Seascapes are areas large enough to encompass work at multiple levels of governance, but not too large to manage effectively. Conservation International effectively merges community-based conservation with end goals known as “The 9 Essential Elements of a Functional Seascape.” A clearly defined approach with social support increases the likelihood of conservation success.

Ecosystem-based management

Coastal communities rely upon marine resources for their livelihoods. Recognizing the strong interdependence of ecological, social, economic and institutional perspectives, Conservation International and partners incorporate sustainable practices — both traditional and modern — into the design of integrated solutions to ecological issues. Maintaining or improving the health of coasts allows governments, communities and local organizations to think holistically about a sustainable development path, instead of reacting to immediate problems regardless of longer-term impacts.

Cultivating a sense of shared commitment

Bridging the knowledge gap between science and policy fosters collaboration. Conservation International works with local champions and government officials to build communication platforms that allow an exchange of information, helping communities, institutions and governments to work together and value their marine resources.


By the numbers

Working with 280 partners, we have helped protect 800,000 square kilometers of sea across more than 200 marine protected areas, and strengthened the management of 5.3 million square kilometers of surrounding ocean area.


Our seascapes project sites

A view of Indonesia's Raja Ampat archipelago
© Will Turner

Bird’s Head Seascape

Conservation International works with local communities, local partners and government in West Papua, Indonesia, the world’s epicenter for marine biodiversity.

READ MORE: Bird’s Head Seascape

Fish swimming in Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape, Cocos Island, Costa Rica     
© CI/Sterling Zumbrunn

Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape

Conservation International and local partners have contributed to the creation or expansion of both fully protected national parks and marine reserves, and multiple use marine management areas within the coastal Pacific waters of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.

READ MORE: Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape

© Paul Nicklen

Abrolhos Seascape

The Abrolhos Seascape, located off the central coast of Brazil, boasts the highest marine biodiversity in the Southern Atlantic. Through engagements with the local fishing communities, Conservation International works with local partners and the government of Brazil to protect critical areas of biodiversity and promote small-scale sustainable fisheries.

READ MORE: Supporting Smallholder Fishing in Brazil

Two men haul a canoe onto the beach on a small island in Central Sulawesi.
© Robin Moore/iLCP

Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape

The Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape is home to diverse ecosystems, including coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangrove forests. New species are still regularly discovered, and reef fish and sharks, sea turtles and manta rays are among the charismatic animals that bring joy and inspiration to coastal communities and tourists alike.

READ MORE: Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape

© Conservation International/photo by Katie Bryden

Lau Seascape

Indigenous Lauan leaders drive the vision for this seascape, which represents the convergence of community-based management and large-scale ocean conservation.

READ MORE: Lau Seascape