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Contrasting Patterns of Coral Bleaching Susceptibility in 2010 Suggest an Adaptive Response to Thermal Stress

Guest et al. (2012) examine the bleaching and mortality responses of corals at sites in Southeast Asia with different thermal histories during a large-scale bleaching event in 2010 to explore whether corals have the capacity to adapt to elevated sea temperatures. They also assess whether reefs in more thermally variable environments bleach less severely during heat stress events. They found increases in thermal tolerance on reefs that previously experienced major bleaching with the most susceptible species exhibiting the greatest increases in thermal tolerance. They also demonstrated that corals generally bleached less severely at locations where temperature variability has been greater and warming rates lower over the last 60 years. These results are important because they suggest that locations that are more resistant to bleaching can be identified from analyzing their thermal histories, and such sites could be considered priorities for protection in marine protected area (MPAs). These results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the capacity for adaptation and acclimatization in corals has been underestimated which is good news for coral reefs.

Author: Guest, J.R., A.H. Baird, J.A. Maynard, E. Muttaqin, A.J. Edwards, S.J. Campbell, K. Yewdall, Y.A. Affendi, and L.M. Chou
Year: 2012
View Full Article

PLoS ONE 7(3): e33353. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033353

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Malaysia – Communication

 

Managing Communication to Mitigate Potential Damage of Coral Reef Bleaching

Location
Tioman Island, Malaysia

The Challenge
Tioman Island, part of the Tioman archipelago, is located about 55 km off the east coast of the Malaysian Peninsula in the South China Sea. The island is approximately 136 km2, with 14.5 km2 of reefs located primarily off the west coast. The archipelago includes four small islands which are ten to a few hundred meters in length, and are surrounded by reefs with 200-300 species of coral in the most diverse areas. Historically, fishing was the mainstay of the communities on Tioman, but more recently dive tourism has grown and now caters to 200,000 tourists each year, the majority of whom are divers or snorkelers. There are six villages scattered around the island which is home to a population of over 3,000 people. A no-take marine protected area (MPA), established in 1994, surrounds Tioman Island and extends for two nautical miles from the low water mark. Visitors to the island pay a conservation charge of 5 Malaysian Ringgit (in 2014, approximately US $1.53) which accrues to a Trust Fund.

Bleached coral Malaysia

Bleached coral. © Reef Check Malaysia

In March 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) alerted the region to the threat of an imminent coral bleaching event. Observations in May 2010 by Reef Check Malaysia, a local nongovernmental organizaton, confirmed significant bleaching. Through surveys, Reef Check found that 90% of the corals in Tioman were bleached. The worst of the bleaching came in June and lasted through August. Water temperatures surrounding Tioman Island reached 3-4°C above normal. Reef Check observed that the bleaching affected other islands off the east coast of Malaysia and affected the deepest reefs in the region – as deep as 20 m.

Actions Taken

Reef Check Dive Operators

Reef Check Malaysia conducts annual surveys. © Reef Check Malaysia

Institutional Response
Once NOAA alerted the region about bleaching, the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia, the national management authority for natural resources, established a monitoring program. In May 2010, the bleaching event came to the public’s attention when a dive operator from mainland Malaysia returned from a dive trip off Tioman Island and relayed the information to a friend who worked at a local newspaper. With very little scientific or empirical data, the bleaching event was reported in the local news and asserted that the coral reefs around Tioman were all dying due to bleaching. Dive site closures were suggested as one possible management option.

Reef Check Malaysia took the initiative to use reef resilience concepts to identify which reef sites would be most suitable for protection, with minimal disruption to tourism businesses, in the event site closures were deemed necessary. Reef Check approached dive operators on Tioman and two adjacent islands – Perhentian and Redang. Through discussions, it was determined which sites to close that would have a minimal impact on dive business. Reef Check aimed to close four critical sites on each island for protection. However, before the consultation process was completed, in June 2010, the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia announced area closure plans because of the severity of the bleaching. Due to a lack of clear communication, subsequent news reports (both local and international) suggested that entire islands were being closed to diving, not just selected reef sites. Because of the poor communication, most dive shop operators did not support the government-mandated closures and did not consider the closures when taking tourists to the reefs.

Reef Check Community Consultations

Reef Check Malaysia consultations. © Reef Check Malaysia

Bleaching Response Plan
In response to the lack of an organized action plan regarding the 2010 bleaching event, Reef Check began writing a bleaching response plan for Malaysia in 2011. The plan was adopted and published by the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia in 2012. The four major components of the plan are:

  1. Early warning system
  2. Ground-truthing survey
  3. Public awareness and communication exercise
  4. Resilience building action plan

The plan established a Bleaching Response Committee and clearly highlights steps to follow during bleaching events. For example, on receipt of a “bleaching watch” announcement from NOAA, the Committee will automatically issue pre-prepared emails requesting dive operators to conduct weekly Bleaching Watch surveys. In the event the alert level is increased to a “bleaching warning” the Committee will automatically issue invitations to specialists to conduct ground truthing surveys, and if the alert level reaches “bleaching alert level 1” the Committee will automatically issue pre-prepared site closure notices.

The plan includes pre-written press releases and FAQs for use at different stages of a bleaching event, and a database of relevant contacts, including media and dive and resort operators. The plan includes consultation with relevant stakeholders to clearly communicate the bleaching response plan (i.e., site closures).

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Clarity of Communication: Reef Check Malaysia used a communication response to mitigate the potential damage from a bleaching event. Management can only be effective if stakeholders at all levels know what is going on and where it is happening. Creating a communication plan will ensure everyone will be up-to-date and informed, to prevent misinformation and miscommunication.
  • Consultation: It is important to communicate with businesses that will be impacted by a disturbance. It is also important to educate and consult the community. Even if community members are not directly affected by a disturbance, they can help to mitigate damage.
  • Increasing Local Resilience: The most common cause of coral bleaching is regional increases in water temperature, a worldwide threat associated with global climate change. Although the cause of the disturbance is not local, the focus must be on local management of threats because this builds resilience. The global nature of this threat means that management of these events becomes just as important as preventing them.

Funding Summary
Reef Check Malaysia relies on corporate sponsorship for most of its funding, as well as some grant funding:

  • Khazanah Nasional Berhad
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Lead Organizations
Reef Check Malaysia

Resources
Reef Check Malaysia Annual Survey Report 2010 (PDF)
Reef Check Malaysia Annual Survey Report 2011 (PDF)
Coral Bleaching
Bleaching Watch Survey Reporting Form (PDF)

Written by: Julian Hyde, Reef Check Malaysia

This case study was adapted from: Cullman, G. (ed.) 2014. Resilience Sourcebook: Case studies of social-ecological resilience in island systems. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY.

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Chronic Nutrient Enrichment Increases Prevalence and Severity of Coral Disease and Bleaching

After exposing test plots in the Florida Keys, USA to increased nutrients (at levels equivalent to nutrient input from onshore sources), researchers found that increased nutrient levels led to increased prevalence and severity of coral diseases and coral bleaching. However, one year after nutrient enrichment stopped, there were no differences in bleaching or disease, indicating that coastal nutrients are increasing prevalence of bleaching and disease. Local scale nutrient input may worsen the effects of global stressors, so limiting nutrient input may be an important management tool for reducing threats to corals. This study is the first to show that nutrients can cause an increase of prevalence of disease or bleaching in the field. 

Author:
Vega Thurber, R.L., D.E. Burkepile, C. Fuchs, A.A. Shantz, R. McMinds, and J.R. Zaneveld
Year: 2013
View Abstract
Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Global Change Biology 20(2): 544–554. doi:10.1111/gcb.12450

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Kenya – Disturbance Response


Coral Bleaching Response and Monitoring in the Kiunga Marine National Reserve

Location
Kiunga, Kenya, Western Indian Ocean

Kiunga Marine Project map. © World Wildlife Fund/Kenya Wildlife Service

Kiunga Marine Project map. © World Wildlife Fund/Kenya Wildlife Service

The Challenge
Kiunga Marine National Reserve (KMNR) is located at the northernmost stretch of the Kenyan coastline at the confluence of two major ocean currents (the north-flowing East African coastal current and the south-flowing Somali current), which creates nutrient-rich upwelling. The reserve covers 250km2 and provides a refuge for sea turtles and dugongs. The coral reefs found within KMNR are comprised of mainly patch reefs, with fringing reef in the northern part. Seagrass beds form the most extensive wildlife habitat in the KMNR. Mangroves also provide critical habitat for various species, serving as forage and resting areas for sea turtles and nursery grounds for juvenile fishes. These mangrove-dominated environments equate to approximately 30% – 40% of Kenya’s mangrove stock.

The primary goal of the reserve is to safeguard the biodiversity and integrity of physical and ecological processes of KMNR, for the health, welfare, enjoyment and inspiration of present and future generations. Although resilience principles were not initially taken into consideration during the design of the reserve in 1979, they have since played a major role in the management of the reserve. The 1998 mass bleaching event triggered interest in the effects of climate change, and subsequently resilience principles were incorporated into the management plan.

Barracudas. © Gabriel Grimsditch

Barracudas. © Gabriel Grimsditch

Climate change, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) related events, and overfishing are a threat to this area. Kiunga reefs are ecologically marginal due to a natural barrier provided by major rivers separating them from other Kenyan reefs, and to the influence of high nutrients from upwelling off Somalia. The Kiunga reef system has not recovered from the 1998 bleaching event as quickly as other reefs along the Kenyan coast.

Numerous factors have made management of the reserve challenging. Due to the area’s proximity to the Somali border, it is difficult to enforce management schemes and patrol the area. The local community does not have a strong appreciation for sustainable resource exploitation in an area of constant lawlessness. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are working to promote environmental education and awareness programs that co-manage natural resources with the local community. The area’s remoteness also makes management challenging because of logistics, high operational costs, and the difficulty of recruiting and retaining skilled and dedicated personnel.

Kiunga Marine National Reserve. © Gabriel Grimsditch

Kiunga Marine National Reserve. © Gabriel Grimsditch

Actions Taken
To address the issues of management capacity, WWF and KWS have partnered with conservation and research organizations to carry out regular monitoring to both share costs and attract expertise. With the assistance of partners, the goal has been to reduce impacts (such as fishing) by encouraging sustainable gear and practices, thus improving the reefs ability to withstand natural disturbances.

Currently, coral reef resilience monitoring is being implemented due to the development of an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) methodology. In 1998, the ENSO-related bleaching event generated a partnership between Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for monitoring. These partners focused on monitoring bleaching (using a Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network methodology), while a wider team of 20 local fishermen monitored other coral reef ecological indicators such as fish, invertebrate and benthic populations, as well as the use of fishing gear. In 2006, a monitoring partnership with KWS began monitoring coral disease. In 2008, monitoring of coral reef resilience began in partnership with IUCN, CORDIO and KWS. Indicators that are being monitored include coral size class, herbivorous fish populations, coral condition and other wider resilience indicators such as oceanographic, anthropogenic and ecological factors. These various monitoring programs have guided management interventions by forming the benchmark for a zoning plan, and by enhancing co-management of natural resources due to increased participation and knowledge of fishermen in the region.

How Successful has it been?
The integration of resilience principles in the management of the KMNR has improved management of resources due to increased knowledge of the reserve and its resources. Additionally, co-management has been enhanced and relationships with the local community have improved. Lastly, the level of awareness of coral reef conservation within the local fishing communities has increased. This has changed the attitude of fishermen, who now recognize the importance of conserving their environment for the future and are now less likely to use destructive fishing gear.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Functional partnerships between government agencies and NGOs are critical for effective management and cost reduction.
  • Community buy-in is critical to establishing resource ownership and raising awareness/knowledge of environmental/climate change issues within the local community.
  • It is recommended that resilience studies and principles be understood and communicated among scientists, resource managers, and resource users.
  • It is critical to reduce the human impacts on reserves to provide a foundation for resource managers to better mitigate against the impacts of climate change.
  • Raising the profile of climate change is critical so that managers can help the community understand the real and present threat to natural resources.
  • Working to increase community understanding of the importance of taking a resilience-based approach to management is critical to management success.

 

Funding Summary
MacArthur Foundation
United States Agency for International Development (USAID-GCP)
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Lead Organizations
WWF Regional Office for Africa
Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean East Africa (CORDIO)

Partners
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI)
Kenya Department of Fisheries
CORDIO
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
UNEP
WWF

Resources
Kiunga Marine Reserve
Natural resource dependence, livelihoods and development: Perceptions from Kiunga, Kenya (pdf)

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Florida – Disturbance Response


Disturbance Response and Monitoring Program in Action in the Florida Keys

Location
Florida Keys and southeast Florida mainland, USA

Florida bleaching mapThe Challenge
The Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) region includes the Dry Tortugas and Florida Keys, and extends up the southeast Florida coast to Martin County. The FRRP started in 2004, and is a multi-year effort to develop and share management approaches and tools to cope with climate change and other stresses on South Florida’s coral reefs. The Nature Conservancy coordinates the FRRP in conjunction with the State of Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and a Steering Committee of reef managers, scientists, reef user-group representatives and other conservation groups. The project region includes shallow water coral reefs (spanning approximately 30,800 km2), colonized hardbottom, seagrass beds and mangrove communities. The focus of the FRRP has been on stony corals and shallow coral reefs.

The chronic stresses that challenge reefs of South Florida include climate change (including warming seas, coral bleaching, disease and acidification); eutrophication from inadequate wastewater and storm water management systems; coastal development; overfishing; destructive fishing practices; boat groundings; anchor damage and diver impacts. The FRRP region has experienced several significant disturbances during the last three decades, including the Diadema sea urchin die-off of 1984, the 1997-1998 and 2005 bleaching events, and hurricanes including four named storms in 2005. In early 2010, the region experienced a cold water event.

The goals of the FRRP are to improve understanding of reef health in the region, and to identify factors that influence the long-term resilience of corals, reefs and the entire marine ecosystem. With this knowledge in hand, coral reef managers and users can work toward resilience-based management strategies that maximize the benefits of healthy reefs, while seeking to improve conditions of less healthy reefs.

Meaghan Johnson of The Nature Conservancy performs reef surveys as part of the FRRP-DRM. © Erich Bartels

Meaghan Johnson of The Nature Conservancy performs reef surveys as part of the FRRP-DRM. © Erich Bartels

Actions Taken
A focal area of the program has been filling spatial and temporal information gaps for stony coral bleaching and other bioindicator monitoring data. The first step in this process was characterization of the >400 km long reef tract from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas into 22 unique reef zones. This created a spatial framework within which a Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) scheme could be developed. An online course was developed to train people to monitor corals before and during bleaching and other extreme events.

The DRM focused initially on coral bleaching, but is adaptable to detect and capture responses to other forms of disturbance. During the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill, the DRM was deployed to detect any detrimental effects from the oil spill to the reefs off Florida. Luckily, the reefs were spared any direct impacts.

FRRP surveyors. Photo © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

FRRP surveyors. © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

The Disturbance Response Monitoring scheme consists of a probabilistic sampling design and a stony coral condition monitoring protocol, implemented during peak thermal stress across the entire South Florida reef tract that extends from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas.

Since 2005, 1758 surveys have been completed by 13 teams from federal, state, and local government agencies, non-profit organizations, and universities during the summer months. Teams enter data on an online database and query through an online mapping service.

2010 Cold Water Event
Following extreme cold temperatures in early January 2010, the FRRP partners initiated a Disturbance Response Monitoring effort to determine the extent of the impact on stony corals in South Florida. Survey sites were randomly selected from a pool of 2005-2009 DRM sites. High resolution sea surface temperature data provided by the University of South Florida was used to further stratify the sample design between sites that experienced temperatures at or below the lethal limit for stony corals (59 degrees) and sites and that did not experience lethally cold conditions.

Recently dead Montastrea coral due to a cold water event. Photo © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

Recently dead Montastrea coral due to a cold water event. © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

In early 2010, 78 sites were surveyed across the Florida Reef Tract. The impact of the cold water was very spatially explicit. The areas that sustained the greatest impact were the inshore and mid channel zones from Summerland Key in the lower Keys through Biscayne National Park. Contrary to warm water induced coral bleaching events, the main effect on the stony corals was direct mortality with low levels of bleaching. Frequent observations on specific corals during the event showed that the corals would generally pale for a day, then die, with mortality occurring across all species.

How successful has it been?
From 2005 to 2013, 1758 surveys were completed. Results from these nine years of surveys show spatial and temporal patterns in coral bleaching and colony size frequency distribution, indicating that some reef areas or coral species may be more resilient to stress than others. Minor to moderate bleaching occurred within varying reef areas in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. While the causes of this variability remain poorly quantified, projected increases in coral bleaching due to climate change makes identification of these resilient reef areas and species important for long-term coral reef conservation and future management strategies.

An analysis of the data revealed areas of the reef tract that contains higher abundance of corals, larger coral colonies, prevalence of bleaching and prevalence of coral disease. All of these layers combined give an indication of where the reefs are that have a higher resistance to bleaching and disease. Having this information for the entire Florida Reef Tract has allowed coral reef managers to incorporate this into their public processes to improve the management of Florida’s coral reef resources.

Figure 1: (C) Rob Van Woesik & S Burman

Figure 1: (C) Rob Van Woesik & S Burman

With this knowledge in hand, coral reef managers and users can work toward resilience-based management strategies that maximize the benefits of healthy reefs, while seeking to improve conditions of less healthy reefs. Ultimately, the FRRP seeks to improve ecological conditions of Florida’s reefs, economic sustainability of reef-dependent commercial enterprises, and continued recreational use of reef resources.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Success of this project was highly dependent on the collaboration and contributions of many different agencies and institutions. The scale of the survey was so great that it would not have happened without collaboration. This has also resulted in a continued high level of commitment from the organizations involved.
  • Identifying supplementary funding to allow different organizations that had staff and expertise, but lacked the funds, was critical. This enabled a broad spectrum of institutional stakeholders to contribute.
  • In the first year, the team was able to demonstrate that an undertaking of this scale was possible and that there was a broad institutional commitment. The success of this pilot effort helped attract additional partners who had initially questioned the feasibility of conducting such large-scale surveys.
  • It was important to develop a simple protocol so that surveys could be completed rapidly during the period of peak bleaching occurrence; so that minimal training was required; and so that the resulting data set was consistent.
  • It was important at the beginning to agree on the scale, sampling goals, and protocol, so that the process was clear to participants.
  • It was important to continue surveys each year regardless of the level of coral bleaching to keep surveyors up to date with the methodology in case of unexpected disturbances (e.g. 2010 cold water event). This also keeps the survey work in team members’ annual workplans and budgets, facilitating their ongoing participation.


Funding Summary
Florida Department of Environmental Protection—Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—Coral Reef Conservation Program
Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative—State Wildlife Grant
Darden Restaurants Foundation
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd—Ocean Fund
Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation
Peacock Foundation Inc.

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy

Partners
Mote Marine Tropical Research Laboratory
Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Biscayne Bay Environmental Center
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
John Pennekamp State Park
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Office of Coastal & Aquatic Managed Areas
Southeast Florida Aquatic Preserves Field Office
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Division of Habitat and Species Conservation
South Regional Office
South Regional Laboratory
Broward County: Department of Planning and Environmental Protection
Miami Dade County
Dept. of Environmental Resources Mgmt.
Restoration and Enhancement Section
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Nova Southeastern University National Coral Reef Institute
Nova Southeastern Univ. Oceanographic Center
Florida Institute of Technology
National Park Service Biscayne National Park
National Park Service Dry Tortugas National Park

Resources
The Nature Conservancy’s Florida Reef Resilience Program
South Florida’s Bleaching Response Plan (pdf)

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Understanding coral reef resilience in Tobago

news-Understanding Coral Reef Resilience in TobagoJahson Berhane Alemu I (a participant in our 2010 Training of Trainers Workshop) and co-author Ysharda Clement recently published the paper “Mass Coral Bleaching in 2012 in the Southern Caribbean”. For 6 months, they monitored approximately 650 colonies (composed of 30 taxa) at three sites across Tobago during a bleaching event in 2010. The purpose of their research was to find nodes of reef resilience in Tobago by identifying taxa resilient to bleaching. We asked Jahson more about his research. In particular, we wanted to know how coral reef managers could learn from his experience. Here’s what he said:

How do you think your findings will influence coral reef management in Tobago?

Our findings now contribute to an evidence-based foundation, on which reef managers can make more informed decisions. Our findings have now been integrated into a Bleaching Response Plan, where a suite of taxa have been incorporated to determine the impact of bleaching and other anthropogenic impacts on reef health.

What most surprised you during the analysis of your research?

The wide variety of responses of taxa to the same stimulus. This will be the subject of future research.

What advice do you have for coral reef managers and practitioners who are trying to identify resilient reefs?

Reef resilience means a bunch of things and it’s evolving. My opinion is that you’re not going to figure it out in one assessment. (Well, maybe you can, and good luck to you!) But I’m no expert and I’ve just started. For me, having a clear personal understanding of what it means and how I intended to apply this knowledge for example through the development of a response plan and MPA selection was central in my approach. This study is but only one of several underway to better understand reef dynamics and the future of coral reefs in Tobago.

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British Virgin Islands – MPA Design


Creation of a Marine Protected Area Network to Protect Underwater Habitats in the British Virgin Islands

Location
British Virgin Islands MPA Network

The Challenge
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are located 100km east of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean and are part of the Leeward Islands, which stretch from the BVI to Antigua. Composed of over 60 islands and cays, the BVI represent a total land area of 153.67km² (59 square miles). Every island in the BVI is surrounded by coral reefs of varying size, health and composition. The Anegada Horseshoe Reef is the third largest continuous reef in the Eastern Caribbean at 63km long, containing both patch reefs and barrier reefs. There are 63 popular dive sites in the BVI, which include 57 coral reef sites and 6 artificial reefs that have been created by shipwrecks. Tourism accounts for about 45% of the national income.

Proposed MPA Network for the BVI.

Proposed MPA Network for the BVI.


BVI Shannon Gore

The Anegada Horseshoe Reef. © Shannon Gore

The BVI has been threatened by both natural disasters and anthropogenic impacts. Hurricanes have frequently impacted the area over time, and flooding from torrential rains has resulted in landslides, which subsequently harm marine resources due to increased sedimentation. Most recently, the bleaching event of 2005 has had devastating impacts, resulting in almost 90% of the BVI reefs being bleached. Hurricanes in 2008 and 2010, and an extreme wave event in 2010 also affected the reefs. Human impacts on the BVI are vast and include the following: anchor damage from boats and ships; coastal development; increased sedimentation due to development on steep slopes, the creation of unpaved roads, and improper erosion control; sewage discharge from charter and private vessels and ocean outfall disposal of terrestrial waste; overcrowding of vessels; overharvesting of conch, spiny lobster and whelks; destructive fishing practices.

Actions Taken
The British Virgin Islands has declared 14 protected areas, including one marine park managed by the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands (NPTVI) and 13 fisheries protected areas, managed by the Conservation and Fisheries Department (CFD). Another 40 areas have been identified for inclusion in a Marine Protected Area Network. The primary goals of the British Virgin Island MPAs are:

  • To create a Marine Protected Area network that reflects the major marine and coastal habitats of the BVI;
  • To protect 30% of the important biological habitats across the BVI, including hard and soft corals, seagrasses, mangroves, turtle nesting beaches, and fishery habitats;
  • To cluster protected areas together so that they can be easily managed; and,
  • To ensure that there are protected areas across the BVI to enhance resilience.

BVI Stakeholder Feedback

BVI Gore and Peters

Shannon Gore, Conservation and Fisheries Dept., and Finfun Peters, National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands, ground truthing sites using aerial photographs as a guide. © BVI National Parks Trust

The overall goal was to create a system of protected areas for the BVI, in order to have a more comprehensive approach to protected area planning. The National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands, the Conservation and Fisheries Department and The Nature Conservancy collaborated to train relevant staff on MARXAN, marine reserve design software. Four potential MPA networks that included areas identified as important due to their biodiversity, importance as fish nurseries or breeding habitats were created using MARXAN. Each potential MPA network included 30% of each biological habitat type and varying levels of clustering of MPA areas and locked in areas (areas that are intended to be protected regardless of outcome). The BVI was divided into three geographic units to build resilience into the network through even distribution of MPAs in each unit. This process eliminated the potential to place heavy reliance on an extensive reef system around the island of Anegada to the detriment of other areas. These maps were then taken to stakeholders for feedback, including fishers, dive operators, charter boat industry and relevant government departments. To ensure participation in the stakeholder review process, meetings were organized on the four main islands in the BVI using existing organizations such as fisheries associations, the Charter Yacht Society, the Dive Operators Association, and the Marine Association. As the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands has a long established relationship with the charter and dive industry, due to over 25 years of managing mooring buoys in sensitive reef sites, it was relatively easy to ensure the participation of this sector of the marine industry. However, the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands did not have a similar relationship with fishermen. The fisheries extension officers at the Conservation and Fisheries Department were critical in assisting with this process because the fishers recognized and responded to their requests to attend the stakeholder meetings. Separate meetings were held for fishermen and the dive/charter industry due to the potential conflict of interests, and to make participants feel more comfortable when providing feedback. The main focus of the meetings was to have stakeholders draw on large printed maps that displayed the four MPA network models, indicating areas they currently use for fishing, diving, and anchoring, in addition to making suggestions of areas that should be protected. Stakeholders were also asked to select the MPA network model they preferred the most. One MPA network model was selected based upon all feedback, which was the one with the highest level of clustering and locked-in areas, and was slightly modified based on all stakeholder input. This map was then included in the overall proposed System Plan of Protected Areas for the BVI, and approved by the Cabinet in early 2008.

How successful has it been?
The Trust is now collaborating with the Survey Department to create the legal maps for these areas so that they can be officially designated as MPAs. These maps will then be used to consultatively create the zoning plan for the MPAs. In addition to this the boundaries of the MPAs and zones will be identified in the marine environment using marker buoys. As the MPA network is very extensive, a public relations campaign will be required to inform all stakeholders of the zones and permitted use. This will include all media sources, such as internet, newspapers, publications and brochures in the BVI and the US Virgin Islands. As of early 2014, the MPAs had not yet been implemented.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Selecting areas that are naturally protected from use due to location, rough seas, or depth assisted in achieving conservation goals with less stakeholder conflict.
    BVI Dive Operators

    Dive Operators and Director Joseph Smith Abbott discuss MPA scenarios on Anegada. © National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands

  • Stakeholder meetings and government involvement throughout the planning process ensures that everyone is aware of the MPA goals (the 30% goal became very well known in the BVI and regionally).
  • A greater understanding of the stakeholder groups is important. As the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands did not traditionally have a relationship with fishermen, it was not always possible to engage fisherman. Therefore, working with the Conservation and Fisheries Department fisheries extension officers was essential and helped improve these relationships.
  • Stakeholder meetings must be located in the communities where fishermen live and a relationship must be created with community members.
  • The way in which information is presented to stakeholders can affect how much feedback is provided in return. For example, using large paper maps laid out on tables enabled people to look at, draw on, and talk informally about the areas. People were also more inclined to attend meetings when they saw that their opinions were being recorded and taken into consideration.
  • It is critical to build trust between the government and the community. This entails continued engagement of stakeholders throughout the MPA planning process, particularly when zoning areas. In some cases, areas may have to be swapped (e.g. if 30% of a habitat can still be achieved by protecting another area and there is less conflict, then it may be wise to swap).
  • Many small island nations do not have access to university experts or scientific researchers so field work can be limited by capacity issues and resources. Therefore, scientific, management, and monitoring training is an important part of the long term project goals. Finding the right people to undergo training is equally important to ensure that capacity is retained within an organization.
  • Building in resilience using geographic distribution across an area and natural features can reduce conflict between stakeholders and conservationists. For example, some areas that have been included in the MPA network are located on the north or south sides of islands that are naturally too exposed, deep or rough to be utilized by stakeholders, therefore there is no conflict involved in protecting the area, but the 30% goal of habitat protection is still being achieved.

 

Funding Summary
Overseas Territories Environment Programme
NOAA National Ocean Service
The Nature Conservancy

BVI TNC and NPT discuss

TNC and NPT staff discuss the maps with the Fisheries Association of Virgin Gorda. © National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands

Lead Organizations
National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands Conservation and Fisheries Department Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour
University of Warwick Life Sciences
The Nature Conservancy Eastern Caribbean Program

Partners
University of Warwick
The Nature Conservancy Eastern Caribbean Program

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Bonaire – Land-Based Pollution


Wastewater Treatment and Fishing Legislation in Bonaire

Location
Bonaire National Marine Park, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

The Challenge
Collectively, the island of Bonaire and the Ramsar areas of several satellite islands (Klein Bonaire and Lac) form the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP). The park encompasses 2,700 hectares of fringing coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems and contains diverse habitats from the shore to intertidal environments, and from coral reefs to deep water environments.

Bonaire1, caption: Bonaire National Marine Park contains diverse coral reef habitats. Photo © J.P. Carnevale

Bonaire National Marine Park contains diverse coral reef habitats. © J.P. Carnevale

Bleaching and hurricane events have affected this area in the past. Only mild bleaching occurred in association with the 1998 El Niño bleaching event, resulting in good recovery. In 1999, Hurricane Lenny affected the shallow reefs of the leeward side of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire; however recovery was similarly high, with recruitment rates 3.5 times higher than the rest of the Caribbean, and high survival rates. More recently, the 2005 and 2006 bleaching events resulted in bleaching of approximately 9% and 10%, respectively. However, in both events the recovery rate after the thermal stress subsided was almost 100%. After a bleaching event in 2010, 10% of corals bleached and died leading to a sharp decline in coral abundance in 2011. Combined with losses of herbivorous parrotfish to overfishing, this has led to an increase of macroalgae.

Aside from these natural disturbances, this region is threatened by pollution, coastal development, invasive species (lionfish and halophila seagrass) and growth in tourism activities.

Actions Taken
The mission of the Bonaire National Marine Park is to protect and manage the island’s natural, cultural and historical resources, while allowing ecologically sustainable use for the benefit of future generations. The BNMP strongly believes that the first step to ensure healthy and resilient corals is to protect water quality and reduce all stresses. Within this framework, the BNMP has been taking different conservation and management actions to address the distinct problems of overfishing, coastal development, pollution, and negative impacts of tourism.

Constructing the wastewater treatment plant. © Jan Jaap van Almenkerk

Constructing the wastewater treatment plant. © Jan Jaap van Almenkerk

In 2010, legislation was passed to improve environmental protection, and as of 2014 was still in place and starting to show improvements in the environment. The legislation includes protection of identified resilience factors like: full protection of herbivorous fishes, full protection of many carnivorous fishes, and stronger rules and regulations on fisheries. The new legislation also includes improvements in procedures for coastal construction and more stringent construction guidelines.

Overfishing
To address the documented decline in predator fishes like groupers, grunts and snappers, the BNMP started lobbying the government and different stakeholders in 2004 to create fish protected areas (FPAs). Within this lobbying work, a group of fishermen, dive operators, government officers and others stakeholders from St. Lucia visited Bonaire to explain to their counterparts how FPAs in Bonaire would benefit both fisherman and tourism operators. A few months later a group of fishermen, government officers, BNMP Rangers and tour operators visited St. Lucia with the same purpose. In 2008, after intensive negotiations, two FPAs were established on the leeward side on Bonaire, encompassing approximately 4 km of a no-take zone. In 2010 the harvest of parrotfish and use of fish traps were banned.

Coastal Development and Pollution
In addition to fishing pressures, Bonaire is experiencing rapid coastal development. To minimize the impact of construction practices, the BNMP developed an officially approved booklet of Construction Guidelines, together with the Department of Physical Planning, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the local waste management company, construction companies, land owners, developers, and local NGOs. The BNMP ran an intensive nutrient monitoring program during 2006-2008, and Nov. 2011- May 2013 that covered the entire leeside of Bonaire and all around Klein Bonaire. This nutrient monitoring program was run in cooperation with the Central Government, the Department of Physical Planning of Bonaire and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Florida. Preliminary data show that the levels of dissolved nitrogen are high and that the most probable cause is due to sewage and unsustainable irrigation practices in the coastal zone. To mitigate this sewage water input to the sea, the BNMP worked with resort operators to establish “water balances,” and to improve fresh water and waste water management. This work has ended with the establishment of a local sewer system.

With over four years of nutrient monitoring data indicating high levels of nutrients in the area, a wastewater treatment facility is under construction. The facility plant is designed to move wastewater away from the shoreline and is anticipated to be in operation by late 2014. A temporary plant is in place and has been operating since 2011 while construction continues on the main plant.

Bonaire3, caption: Bonaire National Marine Park's coral reef habitats are threatened by over-fishing, pollution, coastal development, tourism, and bleaching events. Photo © BNMP

Bonaire National Marine Park’s coral reef habitats are threatened by over-fishing, pollution, coastal development, tourism, and bleaching events. © BNMP

Tourism
Dive tourism is an essential component of the economy of Bonaire, generating significant income and creating employment, and it is vital that dive operators and their clients are well educated about potential negative impacts and means of reducing them. In 2008, the BNMP developed a “Reef Ranger” course. This course has been mandatory since 2010 but not yet fully implemented. The goal of this program is to maximize active support for coral reef conservation by providing standardized training for dive staff, tailored to local circumstances. BNMP recognized that dive operators and divers can be natural ambassadors for coral reef conservation since they have a vested interest in maintaining healthy and diverse marine ecosystems.

Effective communication is also a fundamental goal of Stichting Nationale Pareken (STINAPA) Bonaire, which successfully manages two nature parks of Bonaire National Marine Park and Washington Slagbaai National Park. Communication with the general public and stakeholder groups is a main priority for the BNMP, prompted by a group of residents who indicated a decrease of awareness and involvement, and no sense of ownership of the BNMP. As a result, an on-going communication campaign titled “Nature is our livelihood,” was developed to provide knowledge and change attitudes about conservation issues. Providing adequate information concerning the importance of nature conservation and the sustainable development of Bonaire was considered of utmost importance. The campaign has been successful in some areas and is currently undergoing an evaluation.

How successful has it been?

Overfishing
Monitoring has taken place regularly since 2003 in Bonaire. The ban on fishing of parrotfish (and use of fish traps) has led to an increase in parrotfish population density and biomass after 2011, and, despite a decrease in coral abundance due to bleaching, coral cover began to increase again (while macroalgae cover decreased) in 2013. Perhaps due to an increase in predation, Diadema urchin populations have decreased.

Coastal Development and Pollution
A temporary water treatment plant was built on Bonaire and began operation in late 2011, and a second will be in operation in late 2014. It is estimated that a total of 17.5 to 35 tons of nitrogen a year will be removed from waste water. However, recent nutrient monitoring in late 2013 showed that water quality indicators on the west coast of Bonaire signal eutrophic conditions, though levels of nitrogen have been decreasing slightly. Some sampled sites had high levels of fecal bacteria numbers, and increasing levels of phosphorous. Generally, sampling has showed a slight improvement since 06-08 values, but nutrients remain at threshold levels.

Tourism
A strong conservation ethic persists in Bonaire, mainly due to the large revenue from tourism focused on SCUBA diving and snorkeling. The focus of this environmental work has been on local people rather than tourism, although tourism has increased in the last few years.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Involvement of key stakeholders is critical. No conservation plan will succeed long term without complete support of interested parties.
  • Involve all stakeholders from the beginning; demonstrate that what you want to implement (with their help) has unique value, and that they are the beneficiaries of this plan/action.
  • Set up an implementation plan (simple is better), discuss it with the stakeholders when ready make it public, and follow it step-by-step with little improvisation.
  • Once the plan is implemented, inform stakeholders about news of progress as well as failures. Transparency is critical!
  • Create clear rules, laws and procedures. People are more willing to support what they understand and trust.
  • Communication campaigns can help provide updated information to the general public and government officers.
  • The development of Integrated Coastal Management can reduce the amount of stressors on the reef to improve resilience to future climate change.
  • The development of a course similar to the “Reef Ranger” program can improve the sustainable practices of reef divers and other water sport practitioners.

Funding Summary

Lead Organizations
Bonaire National Marine Park

Partners
Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment
Ministry of Economic Affairs
DROB—NMB (Local environmental planning department)
Sea Turtle Conservation of Bonaire
Council of Underwater Resource Operators
The Nature Conservancy
WWF-Netherlands

Resources
Bonaire construction guidelines formulated by the BNMP, Department of Physical Planning, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the local waste management company, construction companies, land owners, developers, and local NGOs.

Results of the nutrient monitoring program, conducted in cooperation with the Central Government, the Department of Physical Planning of Bonaire, and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.

Bonaire National Marine Park Management
Coral Reef Resilience Assessment of the Bonaire National Marine Park (pdf)
Status and Trends of Bonaire’s Reefs in 2013: Causes for Optimism

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Australia – Monitoring Reef Resilience


Using Resilience Assessments to Inform the Design of Marine Protected Areas in Australia

Location
Keppel Bay Reefs and Islands, Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia

A bleached landscape from the severe bleaching event in the Keppel Bay in early 2006. © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

A bleached landscape from the severe bleaching event in the Keppel Bay in early 2006. © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

The Challenge
The Keppel Islands are a group of 16 continental islands lying 18 km off the coastal town of Yeppoon, in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Located in the shallow basin to the north of Keppel Bay, the islands are host to a patchwork of fringing reefs in various forms of development. Coral communities are abundant in some locations, with coral cover as high as 70%. Additionally, some of these reefs are dominated by extensive stands of branching Acropora that extend into shallow water.

Reefs within the Keppel Bay area have been affected by a devastating series of climate-related events over the last 25 years. Particularly severe flooding events occurred in 1991 and again in 2010. Both of these events devastated shallow reefs in the area. The mass bleaching events of 1998 and 2002 also impacted local reefs, and in the summer of 2006, most sites experienced at least 30% bleaching-induced mortality of corals due to a highly localized and severe warming event. Furthermore, during the latter half of 2006 an extremely low tide coincided with a heavy rainfall event killing many of the reef-flat corals throughout the reefs of the Keppel Bay. During summer 2009-2010, flooding led to a localized coral bleaching event. The flooding that began in 2010 extended through to May 2011 as a result of the record rainfall in the watershed. This most recent flooding caused 40-100% mortality of corals on the mostly fringing reefs, due to prolonged exposure to the freshwater flood plumes.

Many of the reefs within the Keppel Bay area are characterized by mono-specific stands of branching Acropora. The photo highlights that many of the corals at these sites compete for light and space with the macroalgae Lobophora variegata. Photo © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Many of the reefs within the Keppel Bay area are characterized by mono-specific stands of branching Acropora. The photo highlights that many of the corals at these sites compete for light and space with the macroalgae Lobophora variegata. © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Increasing development and the impact of climate change threaten the ability of the reefs to recover from these disturbances. The broad objective and vision of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is to provide for the protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef in perpetuity, through the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This will involve implementing both routine and reactive strategies to mitigate stressors that interact with those of climate change, in an effort to build resilience of the reef to future threats.

The Keppel Islands and surrounding waters are popular with a range of users. Historically, tourism has mainly focused around Great Keppel Island, and camping is available on seven other islands. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) jointly manage the area. Many of the islands are also National Parks, and together with the Marine Park form part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Although there is increasing residential development along the mainland coast, there is also increasing participation in community groups, including the Capricorn Coast Local Marine Advisory Committee (LMAC), that have interests in the management of local environmental issues.

Actions Taken
Resilience is a central goal in the management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and specific resilience-building activities have been part of the management response from the earliest stages of planning and consultation. The Climate Change Group at the GBRMPA developed a resilience assessment and monitoring protocol in late 2007 that was applied to 31 sites within the Keppel Bay region. The initial focus was to test and refine a method for assessing the resilience of reef sites, as a basis for implementing spatial management tools (such as no-anchoring zones). The preliminary resilience assessment involved an identification of reef sites important to local users and assessed them against a suite of broad-scale and local-scale putative resilience indicators derived from preliminary resilience measuring protocols developed by The Nature Conservancy, IUCN Working Group on Climate Change and Coral Reefs, and the GBRMPA. The results of the resilience assessment were integrated into a numerical score that was used to rank sites on the basis of likely resilience to climate change.

Based on the outcomes of the resilience assessment, a ‘Resilience assessment and capacity building’ workshop involving the GBRMPA, QPWS, Traditional Owners, the LMAC, and local stakeholders was held in 2008. This workshop identified candidate sites for the installation of voluntary no-anchoring zones as a mechanism to restrict anchor damage (and hence increase resilience) due to the increase in recreational use of the Keppel Bay region. In late 2008, 16 no-anchoring buoys were installed by QPWS staff at four sites in the Keppel Bay region.

Broad-scale conservation initiatives implemented in recent years have been aimed at restoring and maintaining system resilience. Some initiatives in place in the Keppel Islands include:

  • A comprehensive network of marine protected areas in the area.
  • The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, which includes an extensive Reef Water Quality Monitoring Program, works with farmers to reduce amounts of fertilizers and sediments entering reef waters.
  • Voluntary moratorium (at some locations) on commercial collection of some aquarium fish species, identified through risk assessments as potentially vulnerable to the combined impacts of disturbance (bleaching and flooding) and fishing. This moratorium was lifted in 2013 in response to signs that corals in key collecting areas had returned to a stable condition.
  • There is generally low take of herbivorous species by recreational and commercial fishers throughout the Great Barrier Reef, which helps to protect the ability of reef areas like the Keppels to recover after damage.

Community engagement is also a key aspect of this resilience-based management initiative. Local reef users are an important source of knowledge on patterns of use, resource condition and dynamics. Also, effective restoration of ecosystem resilience requires active and willing participation of reef users in efforts to reduce local stressors. Finally, meaningful engagement by the local community in development and implementation of resilience-based management actions also help ensure that social and economic impacts are minimized.

A coral-covered reef crest at Sloping Island. Photo © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

A coral-covered reef crest at Sloping Island. © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

How successful has it been?
Follow-up monitoring assessments in 2010, 2011, and 2012 revealed that the no-anchoring areas appear to be having a positive influence on coral health. Surveys indicate reduced anchor damage inside all four no-anchoring areas from ~80 instances per 1000 m2 in 2008 to high levels of voluntary compliance with the no-anchoring areas.

MPA network success
A 2010 report on the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan found that progress towards water quality targets was good, but that positive impacts on the marine environment are expected to take longer to manifest. There was a reduction in sediment and nutrient discharge in the Fitzroy watershed, which is the source of floodwaters for the Keppel Bay area.

Community
The local community has become more aware of the vulnerability of the reefs in the area due to involvement in the resilience surveys and participation in the process of identifying sites for no-anchoring areas. This has resulted in a general increase in stewardship in the region, as evidenced by increased compliance with the voluntary no-anchoring areas, and strong willingness to assist researchers working in the area. Building on the knowledge about reef conditions and resilience concepts, the local community has developed organized and well-informed campaigns in response to development proposals in the area.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Resilience is a relative concept. For example, a site within one reef region having ‘high’ resilience, may have only ‘low’ or ‘medium’ resilience when compared to sites within other regions, and vice versa. This suggests that absolute values such as high and low should be used with caution. A relative approach (higher or lower), applied within a defined context, is likely to be more meaningful in most situations. In general, GRBMPA now ensures that the spatial context for any resilience assessments is clearly defined and communicated.
  • Quality standards for monitoring protocols should be developed, to reduce biases introduced by differing perspectives and expertise, therefore improving the use of these data for management decisions. The experience from the Keppels has provided the foundation for subsequent initiatives to formalize protocols for assessing system resilience. This includes a project in the Caribbean to develop a rapid resilience assessment protocol (monitoring multi-tool) for coral reef managers.
  • The Keppel Bay project first brought to light the value in using a simple, semi-quantitative approach to assessing resilience, using local and scientific expertise to estimate values for resilience indicator variables. Although coarse, this approach provides sufficient resolution for prioritizing management actions. Subsequent work has helped identify a more manageable set of resilience indicators, and the project in the Caribbean to develop a rapid resilience assessment protocol is designed around use of community members and local knowledge.
  • Community engagement at every step of the process was highly beneficial and as such, the no-anchoring zones appear to be having a positive influence on reef health despite being voluntary and non-enforceable.

Funding Summary
Department of Environment and Heritage Program
Queensland Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing

Lead Organizations
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Partners
Australian Institute of Marine Science
James Cook University
University of Queensland
Central Queensland University
Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport, and Racing
Pro-vision Reef Inc.

Resources
Biophysical assessment of the reefs of Keppel Bay: a baseline study April 2007, Climate Change Group, GBRMPA (pdf)
Keppel Bay Case Study, GBRMPA (pdf)
Zoning map of the Capricorn section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (pdf)

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