Oh What a Tangled Web: Ecosystem-Based Management

The lab activity described here was created by Erin Bardar of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students begin this investigation by reading about the basic premises of Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM). They then watch a short animation about how the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking (POST) project of the Census of Marine Life (CoML) endeavor will track and monitor ocean life with implanted tags and underwater listening lines. In Part B of the investigation, students play the Australian Fisheries Management Authority's Great Australian Fisheries Challenge game, in which helps students learn about managing a marine ecosystem in a sustainable way by assuming the role of a fishery manager.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • define Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM);
  • understand that fisheries management is more complex than just counting fish; and
  • explain why fisheries should use EBM approaches;
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Context for Use

The previous investigation, Lab 2: Are You Going to Eat That?, alerted students to some of the fishing practices that are harmful to marine ecosystems. This investigation introduces students to the ecosystem-based management process and the tools used by researchers to assess and maintain ecosystem health.

The entire investigation will take two 50-60 minute class periods. The reading, Checking In Questions, and Stop and Think Question in Part A should take students 30-45 minutes to complete. The POST animation is approximately 2-3 minutes long. The Great Australian Fisheries Challenge game in Part B will take most of a class period if students manage all 3 fisheries.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A, students read this excerpt from the WWF publication Ecosystem-Based Management for Marine Capture Fisheries (Acrobat (PDF) 366kB Jan17 08) to learn about EBM and how it can be used to improve fisheries management. Students are then introduced to the idea of EBM tools for helping stakeholders make management decisions and watch an animation produced by the POST project of the Census of Marine Life, which explains how the project will tag and monitor the life, migration, and death of marine animals.

In Part B, students play the Great Australian Fisheries Challenge game, created by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. The game is aimed at late primary and early high school students, and helps students learn about managing a marine ecosystem in a sustainable way by assuming the role of a fishery manager. The player chooses what they think is the best way to deal with the issues and challenges that fishing may present. Such challenges include adverse effects on the marine environment, interactions with protected species, and maintaining fishing at a sustainable level. To play the game, student computers must be equipped with the Adobe Flash Player.

Printable Materials

  • Activity sheet (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 34kB Jan31 08) and Word (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Aug7 18))
  • Ecosystem-Based Management for Marine Capture Fisheries (Acrobat (PDF) 366kB Jan17 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students will encounter new vocabulary in this investigation. Encourage students to create a list of new and unfamiliar vocabulary words and definitions. The Great Australian Fisheries Challenge game has a built-in dictionary that can help with new terms encountered in the game.

If time is short, you can assign different groups of students to manage different fisheries rather than having all students manage all three fisheries in the game. The game can also be assigned as homework if your students have computer access at home.


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions.

Additional Resources

Background Information

Pedagogic Considerations

  • Mark Wagner and Michael Guerena of the Orange County (CA) Department of Education's Educational Technology group, created this 22-minute video, Games in Education, about the use of video games for authentic and experiential learning in K-12 classrooms.

Content Extension

  • On March 21st, 2005, Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS) released a Scientific Consensus Statement on Marine Ecosystem-Based Management (Acrobat (PDF) 728kB Jul25 07). This document, signed by more than 220 scientists and policy experts from academic institutions across the U.S., highlights current scientific understanding of marine ecosystems, explains how this knowledge shapes the call for a new management approach, and provides a definition for what the scientific community envisions when it recommends "ecosystem-based management" for the oceans.
  • The Census of Marine Life is a growing global network of researchers in more than 70 nations engaged in a ten-year initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life in the oceans -- past, present, and future. This website provides information about the census and links to the 17 sub-projects (including POST) that comprise the Census of Marine Life.