The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Application of the ecosystem approach will help to reach a balance of the three objectives of the Convention. It is based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organization which encompass the essential processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. It recognizes that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of ecosystems.
As described by the Conference of the Parties, the ecosystem approach is the primary framework for action under the Convention. The Conference of the Parties, at its Fifth Meeting, endorsed the description of the ecosystem approach and operational guidance and recommended the application of the principles and other guidance on the Ecosystem Approach (decision V/6). The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties agreed that the priority at this time should be on facilitating implementation of the ecosystem approach and welcomed additional guidelines to this effect (decision VII/11).
There is no single agreed-upon definition for EBM (also referred to as the Ecosystem Approach); these terms have been defined in many different ways to date. A typical definition of EBM acknowledges the complexity and interspecies relationship within ecological systems, but many also account for social and governance objectives, with the latter aspects broadening the range of definitions. On the one hand, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), for example, has a narrow set of ecological objectives, describing the ecosystem approach as management that: “takes into account all the delicate and complex relationships between organisms (of all sizes) and physical processes (such as currents and sea temperature) that constitute the Antarctic marine ecosystem”.
On the other hand, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) integrates ecological, social and governance objectives, describing the ecosystem approach as: “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way".
The Communications Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS) published a more in-depth, inclusive definition developed by over two hundred science and policy experts in the United States. EBM was defined there as: “an integrated approach to management that considers the entire ecosystem, including humans. The goal of EBM is to maintain an ecosystem in a healthy, productive and resilient condition so that it can provide the services humans want and need. EBM differs from current approaches that usually focus on a single species, sector or activity or concern; it considers the cumulative impacts of different sectors”.