Integrated Oceans Management (IOM): Bringing together Sectors and Stakeholders, for a healthy Ocean and Sustainable Development


The Sustainable Oceans Lab is a global Leadership and Innovation Lab, jointly convened by the Global Leadership Academy and the Blue Solutions Initiative, and hosted together with the facilitating partner Reos Partners. It gathers 30 change agents from government, business and civil society from 5 continents and 17 countries.

The objectives of the Lab are to

  • develop capacity to effectively lead complex change initiatives and bring diverse interests of the oceans system into dialogue;
  • critically examine existing strategies and initiatives, seeking to build on and improve them; and
  • develop new solutions to collaboratively address oceans management. / /


The sustainable management of marine ecosystems involves a multitude of stakeholders, across various sectors. The vastness of the ocean and the potentially diverging interests of stakeholders involved - including different government departments, the private business sector and civil society - are not necessarily reflected in ‘traditional’, sector-based regulation and management mechanisms. This poses a challenge to an efficient use of ocean resources, and the conservation of its ecological integrity and functioning

Integrated Oceans Management is an approach that brings together relevant actors from government, business and civil society and across sectors of human activity (e.g. fishing, mining, shipping or tourism), to collaborate jointly towards a sustainable future of our ocean environment (‘ocean’ referring to marine and coastal areas).

To advance the realization of IOM, the Sustainable Oceans Lab convened a meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, on 19th February 2016 with a particular focus on Southern Africa, bringing together ocean stakeholders from 13 countries[1] across government, private sector and civil society, all committed to the sustainable management of the marine environment, to share and reflect on different experiences on IOM.

As one of the outcomes of this meeting, the SOL practitioners group on IOM[2] integrated the main points of the presentations and discussions in this document. The views presented reflect the diversity of the group, not necessarily that of the group as a whole, any particular participant or the conveners.

Integrated Oceans Management

At the core of the IOM lies the recognition of the values of the ocean for humans, e.g. as a foundation for livelihoods, a source of food, a medium for transport and even a sink for wastes; the ocean provides a range of opportunities for humans to thrive socially, economically and spiritually. As such, the ocean is a natural connector between different stakeholders, their activities and interests.

A range of countries and regions are now putting in place ‘blue growth’ strategies aiming at an expansion of activities in the ocean, putting particular emphasis on the growth and emergence of economic activities such as aquaculture, marine mining and energy production. At the same time, growing coastal populations depend on often dwindling fish stocks or intact mangrove systems for coastal protection. These factors together make cooperation among stakeholders and across sectors more necessary than ever, to prevent or solve conflicts, and achieve optimal use and conservation of ocean ecosystems.

The integrated nature of IOM aims at holistic and collective multi-sectorial management across current governance boundaries. It also calls for the consideration of social, economic and ecological dimensions of development as well as intra- and inter-generational justice.

Basing IOM on the Ocean system means recognizing ecosystems’ and human activities’ interaction and connectivity, including land-sea interactions, addressing pressures at their source and identifying the export of negative effects.

Management in an IOM approach includes adequate governance and planning mechanisms that allow for holistic management, including Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), the identification and recognition of trade-offs and compromises, and a participatory and adaptive approach.

Experiences from practice

The expert exchange among meeting participants was informed by four case studies, sharing experiences and approaches from the Benguela Current Commission, Gabon Bleu, the Mozambique Channel Initiative and the South African Operation Phakisa.

Integrated Ocean Management is inherently different at every place it is conducted, depending on existing institutions, policies, scientific knowledge and issues at hand. It’s important to recognize that IOM is not a one-off, nor a radically different process - it should build on existing initiatives bringing sectors together, whether under the umbrella of ICZM, MSP, Ecosystem-based Management (EbM), Marine Protected Area (MPA) management or others.

Neither is IOM an end-goal. It should be related to Sustainable Development, and understood as a mechanism that enables the resolution of user conflicts, the optimization of sustainable resource use, the alleviation of poverty, and ultimately conservation and (re-) growth of social, environmental and economic. It can further help governments deliver on global goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and thereby provide a framework for efficient management that should, after short-term investment, deliver on a range of political and societal objectives. Blue Growth initiatives tie in very well with IOM if they are aimed at long-term, stable and sustainable growth.

IOM should map current stakeholder dependencies and vested interests, and clearly and transparently identify probable effects of any management decision or scenarios, explicitly recognizing potential gains and losses. These may not always be obvious, as connections, trade-offs and responses between human activities and the ocean ecosystems can be hard to predict. Here, proactive communication of uncertainties can increase both stakeholders’ and managers’ adaptivity and resilience change. Inconsistent capacities among stakeholder to engage in planning meetings, to make their needs known and use the tools available to them need to be mapped and addressed early on in the IOM process.

Mapping and truly understanding ocean communities’ and users’ perspectives and needs, and building trust are essential pre-requisites for successful IOM, and that needs time. A safe convening space for stakeholders to meet, build personal relationships, find common goals and develop common visions for their shared ocean can serve as a basis for building trust. Such a convening space could further help clarify potentially unclear political agendas and mandates both between government bodies as well as with other stakeholder groups. It can also be a place in which to develop a common language, and overcome barriers to cooperation such as education, hierarchy, socio-economic position, race, gender or culture.

Respectful dialogue that avoids demonization or disparagement of certain stakeholder groups is important. Such a space needs to ensure participation of all stakeholders, including marginalized groups who sometimes might need to be empowered to meaningfully take part in these processes. Strong and unbiased overall meeting process facilitation can support this. Ultimately, trust-building and participation will strengthen buy-in, support and compliance, and facilitate implementation, monitoring and enforcement.

Another valuable effect of stakeholder-inclusive dialogue and trust-building is increased data sharing. Creating an agreed, level playing field for planning and management through a common, transparent and open platform (recognizing the limitations that some, particularly private sector, actors might have) increases transparency as well as the scientific robustness of planning and management. In order to achieve that, technical obstacles such as intellectual property issues or data and metadata standards must be addressed early on. Permit processes and Environmental Impact Assessments can be a source of data. Creating a shared scientific understanding is a front-loaded investment that will pave the way for smoother stakeholder dialogue, planning and management. Ultimately, data sharing and data transparency also build trust.

MSP or zoning processes are often part of IOM, and these can integrate well with other sectorial or scientific zoning initiatives, including LMEs, MPAs, CBD EBSAs, FAO VMEs, IMO PSSAs, ISA APEIs, LMMAs, taboo zones, spawning or nursery areas, key biodiversity areas or ‘hope spots’[3]. Zoning should not be considered a panacea. It needs to carefully aim to meet different user needs, making sure that the underlying ecosystem is not being undermined. IOM is also an opportunity for fostering innovation, such as through Payment for Ecosystem Services Zones or Community Management Zones. However, the spatial and structural view on the ocean should not be overly emphasised; a more functional perspective is essential to ensure continued ocean health and integrity, and delivery of ecosystem services.

There is a range of challenges to implementing IOM, particularly at a regional scale. In addition to the above-mentioned barriers for cross-sector stakeholder, language barriers, cultural differences, different governance systems as well as different levels of resources can make regional processes difficult, and some actors may be reluctant to discuss shortcomings in capacity at the national or sub-national level. Therefore, it might be better to begin at a smaller scale, to then expand or replicate based on lessons learnt. Alternatively, national or sub-national IOM processes can be coordinated by common standards or guidelines that support alignment and complementarity, and consultation mechanisms that ensure functional links. Tools and processes need to be tailored to their respective geographic scale.

Integrated Ocean Management is an opportunity for economic growth, for social participation and the continued health and functioning of ocean ecosystems. It has strong ties to Blue Economy approaches, whether they are aimed at ‘Blue GDP growth’ or an inclusive Green Economy[4]. Overcoming current sectorial management mechanisms means overcoming current power structures and challenging well-known approaches. That is not always easy. Finding champions with moral authority, at the regional, national or community level, can be catalytic; providing them with knowledge and access to influence will enable them to serve that role. IOM is successful where it has grass-roots involvement and top-level long-term political support; achieving both is critical. Where early success is available, even at small scale, this should be highlighted and built on.

While ultimately, we only have one ocean and its wealth to share, we can still grow the social benefits we derive from it - IOM can help us unlock that potential.

[1] Angola, Bermuda, Fiji, Kenya, South Africa, USA, UK, Germany, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, and the Philippines.

[2] Tundi Agardy, Pinehas Auene, Graça D'Almeida, Wouter Drinkwaard, Jan Kleine Büning, Christian Neumann, David Obura, Kerry Sink

[3] Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs), MPAs, CBD´s Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs), Food and Agriculture Organization´s (FAO) Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs), International Maritime Organization´s (IMO) Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs), International Seabed Authority´s (ISA) Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEIs), Locally-Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs). Mission Blue is leading the “Hope Spots”.


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