Abstract Ecosystem processes function at many scales, and capturing these processes is a challenge for ecosystem models. Nevertheless, it is a necessary step for considering many management issues pertaining to shelf and coastal systems. In this paper, we explore one method of modeling large areas with a focus at a range of scales. We develop an ecosystem model that can be used for strategic management decision support by modeling the waters off southeastern Australia using a polygon telescoping approach, which incorporates fine-scale detail at the coastal zone, increasing in scale to a very coarse scale in the offshore areas. This telescoping technique is a useful tool for incorporating a wide range of habitats at different scales into a single model.