U.S. Virgin Islands – Disturbance Response

The U.S. Virgin Islands BleachWatch Program

U.S. Virgin Islands

Bleaching Coral. Photo © TNC

Bleaching Coral. Photo © TNC

The Challenge
In 2005, coral reefs throughout the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean were severely impacted by a mass coral bleaching event triggered by prolonged exposure to above normal water temperatures. The bleaching observed in 2005 caused some direct mortality and was also followed by an increased incidence of disease outbreaks. Multiple studies reported this pathway of bleaching followed by increased incidence of disease, with corals varying in degree of mortality resulting from both stresses. This event caused resource managers to realize a formal plan was needed to better respond to coral bleaching events and communicate with stakeholders.

Actions Taken
The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) BleachWatch Program was developed to assess and monitor coral bleaching primarily from warm water events and document the distribution, severity and impacts of bleaching to reefs and reef communities. The program was developed by adopting and modifying strategies from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Florida’s successful BleachWatch programs.

BleachWatch BCD Tag

BleachWatch BCD Tag. Photo © TNC

Program Development
To guide the development of bleaching response efforts a steering committee was formed. The committee was composed of reef experts from local and federal government resource agencies, non-profit organizations, and academia. The Bleachwatch Program is one of five main components of the US Virgin Islands Reef Resilience Plan (VIRRP), a larger planning effort to conserve coral reefs in the USVI and promote coral reef resilience.

The VI Reef Resilience Plan and steering committee were necessary to generate and document agreed upon protocols between key stakeholders for the Bleachwatch Program. The Plan provides details on the purpose, response activities and triggers, monitoring protocols and community volunteer training. See further details of the plan below:

Assessment and Monitoring
NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW) Program, provides current reef environmental conditions to identify areas at risk for coral bleaching, and is used to prepare and respond to mass bleaching events. The following CRW products are monitored by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the USVI to provide a early warning system: Alert Areas, Hot Spots (current thermal stress), Degree Heating Week (DHW), Sea Surface Temperature (SST) and Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly (SSTA). These products are available free to researchers and stakeholders to understand and better manage coral bleaching in the region.

USVI Bleachwatch response activities are directly based on advisories and alert levels received from NOAA along with local temperature data. When a Bleachwatch alert is received from CRW by TNC, volunteers are mobilized. They are the first eyes in the water, reporting basic observations such as presence or absence of bleaching. Volunteers are asked to collect data for any areas they visit and also asked to survey specific sites of interest such as coral nursery outplantings and sites assessed with high resilience. If a more severe event takes place, TNC alerts the steering committee and the scientific community. During this time, volunteers might continue to assist with monitoring, but data is more specific and collected at a finer scale to estimate of the percentage of coral reef affected.

Alerts are issued by NOAA only when a station experiences a change in thermal stress level. Table 1 presents a summary of the advisories/alert levels from NOAA monitored by TNC, definitions of the each levels and the response of the USVI Bleachwatch program to each advisory.

BleachWatch Table 1

Community Volunteer Training
Individual volunteers from the public are a main component of the USVI Bleachwatch Program and contribute to the assessment of coral bleaching. BleachWatch assessment methods are taught through in-person training sessions (Since 2013, 4 volunteer trainings have been conducted in St. Croix and St. Thomas). Training sessions are 1 hour in length and focus on the identification of corals reef, fishes, and other creatures. Differences between bleaching, disease and mortality are discussed. Each session also includes training on survey methods, materials, methodology and guidelines for submitting data. A USVI Bleachwatch website was developed to communicate with volunteers and the public. Volunteers have the option of submitting reports through an online datasheet, by email or mail.

USVI Bleachwatch Volunteer Survey Methodology
Conduct a 15 minute roving snorkel or dive pausing each 3 minutes to document a “survey station”. At each survey station:

  • Take a photo or record data for a 1 m2 surface area of the reef
  • Estimate percent coral coverage and percent bleaching of coral
  • Report observations of the absence of bleaching
  • Record other findings such as number and types of herbivorous fishes, number and types of invertebrates and types of diseases
  • Record your findings on the VIRRP BleachWatch Reef Assessment Data Sheet

Materials Needed

  • Diving or snorkeling equipment
  • Underwater clipboard or slate
  • Underwater datasheet and pencils
  • Coral Watch Bleaching Cards
  • Underwater digital camera or video camera – if available (optional)

How Successful Has it Been?
Since the launch of the USVI BleachWatch Program over 35 individuals on St. Croix and St. Thomas have been trained to identify and quantify the severity of bleaching. In 2014 the program protocols were tested for the first time. A Bleachwatch alert was sent out and volunteers were successfully mobilized to survey sites for bleaching. Over 30 reports were received and, fortunately, no bleaching was observed. The secondary response components of the program have been fully tested, as there has not been significant bleaching of corals in the territory since 2005.

The USVI Bleachwatch Program has resulted in increased support and capacity for resource managers to identify and respond to bleaching events. Volunteers are functioning as an early warning system for bleaching events. Managers and the scientific community have a clear plan for assessment and response to bleaching events to inform the proactive management of coral reefs during severe bleaching events.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
The most important lesson learned is to be mindful that not all volunteers will collect data uniformly. In some instances volunteers are comfortable only sharing whether or not bleaching was observed, which is also important information. It is important to be mindful of volunteers’ time and welcome any level of information that they are willing to share.

Here are some additional recommendations to consider when developing a program:

  • Have a point person in place to keep program organized and lead communication with steering committee members and volunteers. During the development of the program it is critical to determine who can serve as point of contact for the program, this requires staff time for coordination. Consider where point of contact responsibilities can be integrated into existing or complementary efforts for example coral reef monitoring efforts.
  • Clearly defining benefits, incentives, and creating a feedback loop to the volunteers is important.
  • Be flexible and realistic about of the quality of data you hope to receive and the format in which you will receive it from the volunteers – some will fill out the entire form, some will just send an email.
  • Provide other alternatives and options for reporting such as a mapping tool to make it easier for people to report the event.
  • Group volunteer time effort – consider expanding the topics included in a training to include other issues affecting coral reef health that volunteers are interested in reporting for example; invasive species, grounding damages.

Funding Summary
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy
The University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies

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New and improved Network Forum

The Reef Resilience Network has launched a new and improved online discussion forum!

Now part of the Reef Resilience website, this interactive online community is a place where coral reef managers and practitioners from around the world can connect and share with others to better manage marine resources.

If you work to protect, manage, or promote coral reefs please join the conversation:

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New Reef Resilience Online Course Launched

The new online course Advanced Studies in Coral Reef Resilience is designed to provide coral reef managers and practitioners in-depth guidance on managing for resilience. This free course incorporates new science, case studies, and management practices described in the Reef Resilience Toolkit.

The course includes six modules that discuss local and global stressors affecting coral reefs, guidance for identifying coral reef resilience indicators, design principles for resilient MPA networks, methods for implementing resilience assessments, and important communication tools for managers. Course participants can choose to complete any or all lessons within course modules. Read more.

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Malaysia – Communication


Managing Communication to Mitigate Potential Damage of Coral Reef Bleaching

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

Reef Check Malaysia Annual Survey Report 2010 (pdf)

Reef Check Malaysia Annual Survey Report 2011 (pdf)

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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Pacific managers participate in Strategic Communications Learning Exchange

Communications LX group photo

From September 9-11, 2014, fourteen practitioners from Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands, and Yap participated in a Strategic Communications Learning Exchange in Maui, Hawaii. The workshop was designed to provide marine conservation professionals with training in strategic communications, including working with the media and facilitation skills with a focus on the practical application of these skills to a current project. In addition, 42 managers attended a half-day workshop on key components of strategic communications and select communications tools– including social marketing– that can be practically applied to meet their conservation needs.

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Social marketing campaign engages Madagascar fishing villages in sustainable fishing practices

Community sail with campiagn messages 2

Campaign logo painted on local boats. © Blue Ventures

Can social marketing campaigns affect fisheries in Madagascar? Yes, they can, by using messages on the radio, banners, posters, t-shirts, and festivals to change a communities’ way of thinking about fisheries management issues.

Andavadoaka’s coastal waters boast a diversity of fish and coral species and draw fishers and more recently, tourists. In the Velondriake area, some destructive fishing practices such as fish poisoning and the use of illegal nets, threaten the health of coral reefs and fisheries and the local way of life. With the successful implementation of fishery closures for octopus, the community implemented greater marine resource management. Critical to this success were a suite of communication tools as part of a social marketing campaign used by Rare and Blue Ventures. Read more in our Madagascar: Communication case study.

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Time Preferences and the Management of Coral Reef Fisheries

To better understand resource use patterns in Curaçao and Bonaire in the southeast Caribbean, the authors conducted a socioeconomic study of the time preferences and marine management preferences of local SCUBA divers and fishers. Through interviews with 197 divers and 153 fishers on the two islands, they calculated individual discount factors and present bias to evaluate time preferences and preferred strategies for managing coral reefs. Divers’ discount factors were significantly higher than fishers’, meaning they value the future more highly or are more future-biased. Divers, on average, supported more restrictions than fishers such as gear restrictions and marine reserves. And, only 1% of fishers were willing to limit the number of fishers, while 34% of divers were willing to limit the number of divers. Overall, divers were more supportive of management than fishers. The main management and policy implication of this study is that differences in diver and fisher groups should be addressed for effective marine management. The authors suggest offsets, such as a dive fee, like the Nature Fee in Bonaire used for marine park management. A portion of the fee could be used to pay fishers to reduce high-impact gears or the buyout of traps and nets. They also suggest property rights schemes within a larger management framework that includes some mix of gear or effort restrictions, incentives for sustainable use, enforcement, and local buy-in.

Author: Johnson, A.E. and D.K. Saunders
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Ecological Economics 100: 130–139. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.01.004

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Papua New Guinea – Communication

Guardians Protect the Sea in Papua New Guinea

Kimbe Bay, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea

The Challenge
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a country that is world renowned for high levels of biodiversity. The country is made up of twenty unique provinces, where five percent of the world’s species can be found in a wide range of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. However, due to increased anthropogenic and environmental pressures, the presence of these unique ecosystems are declining. With anthropogenic pressure, such as a rapidly growing population largely driving changes to the local environment, the challenge in PNG is educating local communities in order to help them better understand the impact of their actions and use marine and terrestrial resources in a sustainable manner.

MEEP students on way to Restorf Island field excursion sighting orcas. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

MEEP students on way to Restorf Island field excursion sighting orcas. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

Kimbe Bay, located in the West New Britain (WNB) province of PNG, is a large bay (140 km x 70 km in area) comprised of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, and seamounts. Up until the 1960s, most of Kimbe Bay’s population was made up of traditional and indigenous groups who lived a subsistence lifestyle and engaged in cash cropping, e.g. cocoa and copra. In the late 1960’s Kimbe Bay witnessed the arrival of the palm oil industry which significantly altered the demographic and economic makeup of the area. Migrants from other PNG provinces arrived to the area as smallholder participants in the industry. Employment opportunities grew as the industry became successful and expanded. People born in other PNG provinces now make up a large percentage of the population of WNB. In addition, pressure from overfishing and some destructive fishing methods continues to be an area requiring continuous community awareness education in Kimbe Bay.

Actions Taken
In an effort to help preserve the local environment, in 1997, The Nature Conservancy, the European Union Islands Regional Environmental Program, and Walindi Plantation Resort worked together to form a small NGO known as Mahonia Na Dari (MND), or Guardian of the Sea. Operating from the Walindi Nature Centre in Kimbe Bay, MND strives to understand and conserve the surrounding natural environments for present and future generations living in Kimbe Bay and PNG. Hoping to build environmental and reef stewardship within the local community, MND developed an education and outreach campaign which includes a Marine Environmental Education Program (MEEP), field excursions, and additional outreach activities.

MEEP students on field excursion to Restorf Island. Note fish identification guides. Photo @ Stefan Andrews

MEEP students on field excursion to Restorf Island. Note fish identification guides. Photo @ Stefan Andrews

There are currently four programs that target different age groups. In the Intensive MEEP, groups of twenty secondary school students spend nine to ten days in classroom and field sessions learning about reef biology, local environmental problems, and protection strategies. Students also get hands on experience with reef survey techniques and data collection. The Community Conservation Awareness Outreach Program conducted by the Community Conservation Officer visits schools and communities surrounding Kimbe Bay. Baby MEEP, for elementary school students, includes activities such as storytelling, reef walks, and drawing. And the five day Teachers MEEP ensures that critical knowledge is passed on to local Primary school educators. Due to the program’s effectiveness within the community, some activities have become an official part of school curriculum.

Madang Teacher’s College MEEP Training graduates. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

Madang Teacher’s College MEEP Training graduates. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

In hopes to expand their audience, MND encourages groups from anywhere in PNG or across the world to come to the Walindi Nature Centre for field excursions. While these excursions can take on many different forms depending on the requests made by the visiting group, they almost always include practical and hands on experiences with the surrounding coral reefs. By allowing diverse groups to stay and study at the Walindi Nature Centre, MND is disseminating knowledge to a global audience while simultaneously acquiring new knowledge from outsiders. MND works in close association with James Cook University (JCU) Townsville Australia. JCU is a world leader in marine biology research sciences. JCU has had a base at Mahonia Na Dari Research and Conservation Centre since its inception in 1997.

While the MEEP and field excursions serve as a strong foundation for building community stewardship, one of MND’s most popular activities is a puppet show that tours local villages and schools as part of the Outreach Program. MND developed a puppet show providing an entertaining and educational way of sharing information. In the play, two characters cause trouble by using destructive fishing techniques and learn about how simple actions can affect the entire reef ecosystem. Since its inception, the puppet show has helped to effectively spread messages of conservation and sustainable reef management practices throughout local communities. In addition, MND also produces marine conservation videos, booklets, and pamphlets and distributes them throughout the community.

Primary School visits around Kimbe Bay. Photo @Francis Gove/MND

Primary School visits around Kimbe Bay. Photo @ Francis Gove/MND

By involving a wide range of stakeholders, MND was instrumental in establishing one of the first community based marine reserves in PNG directly adjacent to the Walindi Nature Centre. Known as the Kilu LMMA, this area has become an epicenter for research in Kimbe Bay as annual concurrent studies have been conducted by JCU now for 21 years giving the longest collection of such data in an LMMA anywhere.

How successful has it been?
The efforts of MND now reach more than 13,000 individuals each year. The extensive education and outreach campaigns have helped to strengthen knowledge of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and built support for conservation in Kimbe Bay. Community members are able to gain an understanding of how their livelihood choices directly affect their surrounding ecosystems, while travelers from other parts of the world are able to learn about the conservation work of a small local NGO.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Small NGOs can be effective and powerful
  • Identifying gaps of knowledge in the community and targeting that group may be most effective in continuing to spread knowledge
  • Creative outreach and education activities helped increase the success of the program, for example, puppet shows provide an entertaining and educational way of sharing information
  • Persistent reassessment of the effectiveness of different strategies is necessary to continue to engage communities through time
  • Baseline surveys at the onset of implementing a marine protected or a locally managed marine area provide a reference for comparison to future conditions

Funding Summary

Past and Current Donors
Packard Foundation
Canada Fund
New England Bio-labs Foundation
Australia Volunteer International
NZ Volunteer Services Abroad
Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
PADI Foundation
WNB Provincial Governor Sasindran Muthuvel
WNB Provincial Government
New Britain Palm Oil
The Ocean Foundation
RV Alucia
Hargy Oil Palm
UNDP – GEF – Small Grants Program
Democratic Governance Transition Phase (Australian Aid)
New England Aquarium Marine Conservation Fund
Roger Roth: Under Water Image
New Zealand High Commission: Head of Mission Fund (HOMF)
Pacific Development and Conservation Fund NZ
The Nature Conservancy
Walindi Nature Centre

Lead Organizations
Mahonia Na Dari
The Nature Conservancy
Walindi Plantation Resort

Walindi Plantation Resort
James Cook University
New Britain Palm Oil Ltd
The Nature Conservancy
Live & Learn
WNB Provincial Administrations
Office of the Governor
Office of the Provincial Administrator
WNB Division of Education
Community Development
Schools within the Province Talasea LLG (Local Level Government)
Hoskins LLG
Bialla LLG
Council Ward Areas (Talasea & Hoskins and Bialla Districts)
Communities in Talasea & Hoskins and Bialla Districts

Video on Mahonia Na Dari

Video on Mahonia Na Dari Marine Conservation Centre in Kimbe

Video of Mahonia Na Dari school camp snorkeling trip

Dateline video on Kimbe Bay: Marine Research & Conservation, Papua New Guinea

NBC News video on Mahonia Na Dari’s Marine Environment Education Program

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