Fernandina, the westernmost Galapagos Island.

Seascapes Program

Large-scale marine management

Since its inception in 2004, the seascapes approach — which builds coalitions to sustainably manage large marine regions — has been applied in four seascapes, covering over 100 marine protected areas and the surrounding waters.

A seascape is a network of marine protected areas, typically large, multiple-use marine areas, where governments, private organizations and other key stakeholders work together to conserve the diversity and abundance of marine life and promote human well-being.

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 four seascapes:

The seascapes model aims to tangibly improve ecological and socioeconomic outcomes. This requires a flexible approach to implementation that includes long-term commitment and capacity building as key components. Working with coalitions of partners enables more resources to be mobilized, creates teams built of complementary strengths and fortifies these institutions.

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 150 partners, 5.3 million hectares of sea have been protected and 21.8 million hectares strengthened.

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 Papau, 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