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

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Bonaire – Invasive Species


Pro-active Approach to Combat the Invasion of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish by the Bonaire National Marine Park

The Challenge
The invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) was first reported in Bonaire’s waters in 2009 and has since become firmly established. Nowadays, it is common for divers on Bonaire’s reefs to encounter this invasive species. This issue is far from being an isolated problem; in less than a decade, lionfish have become established along the Southeast U.S and the Caribbean and are now expanding into the Gulf of Mexico and South America. Lionfish are not only established, they are thriving, and have surpassed some native species in certain locations. The lionfish invasion, which many believe is to blame on aquarium enthusiasts releasing unwanted lionfish, is reported as one of the most rapid invasions in history. Several factors have contributed to the proliferation of lionfish: the lack of natural predators in their invasive range, their generalist diet, their ability to adapt to many habitats and their prolific rate of reproduction.

hunting lionfish at night_smaller

Hunting lionfish at night. © Andre de Molenaar

By competing with native species for food or space, invasive species can cause important changes to the physical environment, as well as lead to the irreversible extinction of native species. Invasive species are especially an issue for island environments where native species have evolved in isolation and are more vulnerable to introduced predators. Lionfish are a major threat to reef ecosystems because they decrease the survival of a wide range of native reef animals via both predation and competition.  They can also trigger an increase in algal growth by preying on ecologically important herbivore species that keep seaweeds and macroalgae from overgrowing corals. This is of great concern for Bonaire’s reefs, which are some of the most diverse and healthiest in the Caribbean region. The presence of lionfish is also an important concern for Bonaire’s economy, as it has the potential to drastically reduce local fisheries as well as affect revenue from the tourism industry. Additionally, lionfish pose a risk to the health and safety of visitors, locals, and park staff, due to their venomous spines that can inflict a painful sting and result in serious health complications.

Catching LF GOPR0048_crop

Lionfish are caught by spearfishing. © Bas Tol

Actions Taken
Faced with the arrival and rapid population growth of the lionfish, the Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire (STINAPA Bonaire), a nongovernmental organization that manages the Bonaire National Marine Park, quickly sprang into action to curb the invasion and protect native fish communities within the Bonaire National Marine Park. Because of the nature of the lionfish invasion, notably the mobility of the species and the high level of human resources required, the complete eradication of the species is a goal that cannot realistically be attained at present. The aim is therefore to actively control population numbers of the invasive species through periodic and repeated removal efforts, reducing the population of lionfish to a level where the impact on native reef fish communities is minimized and the spread of lionfish to previously unoccupied areas is diminished. The removal program is based on volunteers using spear guns, as the experience in the Bonaire National Marine Park has been that spear guns are the best technique to collect lionfish. While spearfishing is illegal in Bonaire, participating volunteers are provided with special permits allowing the spearing of lionfish using Eradicate Lion Fish (ELFs) by local authorities.

LF collection_0156_Smaller

Volunteer collecting lionfish. © Jan Veenendaal

So far, around 300 local volunteers have been trained and licensed by STINAPA Bonaire to hunt and kill lionfish. Marine Park rangers conduct lionfish workshops for volunteers or visitors who are interested in helping to remove the fish, focusing upon how to safely catch and remove them. A core group of about 30 hunters remove hundreds of fish every week. STINAPA’s Junior Rangers are also involved in the program. All Junior Rangers have received lionfish education while those over the age of 18 have received training on lionfish removal. These Junior Rangers are not only helping with the removal of lionfish but are also helping instill amongst the youth of Bonaire an understanding of the threat that lionfish pose and the need for a pro-active approach.

Bonaire Lionfish in Truck_cropped

Results of volunteer lionfish collecting. © Larry Holling

STINAPA Bonaire has also established a number of important partnerships. They collaborate with Bonaire’s Council on International Educational Exchange Research Station (CIEE ) to ensure that lionfish data are processed and analyzed. So far, more than 5,000 lionfish have been handed off to CIEE, with research focusing on vital statistics such as the size and weight of lionfish, sexual maturity, feeding preferences, and habitat and depth preferences. STINAPA also partners with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) to hold workshops to educate dive operators as well as the general public on why and how to control lionfish. STINAPA and DCNA have jointly developed an innovative tool for lionfish control: a smart phone app whereby Bonaire’s lionfish hunters can add the location and details of lionfish caught, escaped, or seen during a dive, and this data can be viewed on a live map. The goal is to create a centralized location for all collected data in order to show the complete picture to anyone interested.  

How Successful Has it Been?
A study took place in 2011 to determine the effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts within the Bonaire National Marine Park. Differences in the density and biomass of lionfish were compared between areas in which lionfish were directly targeted during removal efforts and areas where they were not. Results showed that the local density and biomass of the invasive lionfish in fished locations on Bonaire is 2.76 times lower than in unfished areas. This study therefore shows that continued removal efforts are effective at reducing the local density and biomass of invasive lionfish. It also shows that using volunteer divers is an effective means in controlling lionfish populations, as large quantities of lionfish are being removed. However, these lionfish removal efforts can only target areas that can easily be accessed by divers, and a number of hard to access sites are not being controlled. In 2013, Bonaire’s deep reef was explored as part of the Bonaire Deep Reef Expedition; lionfish were observed as deep as 165 meters. Therefore, unless lionfish in these hard to access areas can be targeted, the effects of removal efforts will continue to be offset.

STINAPA Bonaire’s partnerships for this project have been a huge success. The thousands of lionfish that have been analyzed by the CIEE research station now represent one of the largest, in-depth and most long-term lionfish datasets in the Caribbean. Thanks to the research carried out on lionfish, managers of the Bonaire National Marine Park can better forecast the impact that lionfish will have on native fish populations and therefore develop more effective management plans. The research has also been a key asset in educating both Bonaire’s local population and visitors about the invasion. Research findings are shared via articles in newsletters and on social media, as well as through public lectures. They are also shared with Bonaire’s youth through lectures and hands-on workshops in local schools.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

  • Due to the nature of the lionfish invasion, a larger community effort is needed to increase the chances of more successful removal.
  • Setting up an efficient research program is crucial to the successful management of lionfish. Data on lionfish within the infested marine environment will help resource managers make informed decisions.
  • Extensive research on the subject at hand is also vital in explaining and gaining the trust of local stakeholders. If they see that research clearly supports community needs, they are more likely to comply with it.
  • Monitoring (pre- and post- infestation) is essential to assess the extent of the infestation so that management strategies can be adapted to respond to the level of threat.
  • A well-informed community is key in the fight against invasive species.
  • Due to the highly mobile nature of the lionfish invasion, complete eradication of the species is extremely difficult. Efforts should instead focus on actively managing lionfish in island waters, controlling abundance as much as possible.

Funding Summary
The program costs USD $7-10,000 per year.

Lead Organizations
Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire
Council on International Educational Exchange Research Station
Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance

Read the Honduras Lionfish Case Study in the Reef Resilience Toolkit
Effectiveness of Lionfish Removal Efforts in the Southern Caribbean (PDF)
Invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish Reduce Recruitment of Atlantic Coral-reef Fishes (PDF)
The Role of Volunteer Divers in Lionfish Research and Control in the Caribbean (PDF)
Biology, Ecology, Control and Management of the Invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish (PDF)
Lionfish Management Guide (PDF)

Written by: Florence Depondt

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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)
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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Honduras – Invasive Species


Partnering to Manage Lionfish in the Bay Islands, Honduras

Bay Islands, Honduras

The Challenge
The Bay Islands of Honduras are comprised of three main islands with smaller cays surrounding them. Reef systems surround all of the Bay Islands, ranging from barrier to fringing reefs. This is the eastern-most part of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. The largest island, Roatán, is the capital of the Bay Islands. Since the 1950s, the economy of the Bay Islands has been tightly integrated into global markets, although the nature of that engagement has changed over time. In the 1950s-1960s, the lobster, conch, and shrimp industry was the mainstay of a booming Bay Islands’ economy. Later, in the 1970s, much of the Bay Islands economy came from an influx of diving tourism. Beginning in the 1990s, and continuing to the present, large-scale cruise ship tourism became a driving economic force. As tourism increased so did emigration from mainland Honduras to the Bay Islands. This influx of people put stress on the natural resources in the area. Today, a diverse population inhabits the Bay Islands.

Lionfish have become a major threat to native fish populations throughout the Caribbean and have been documented in the Atlantic since the 1990s. It is theorized that the presence of lionfish is due to the aquarium trade and the accidental release of the fish during various Hurricanes. Another hypothetical avenue for introduction from the Pacific has also been attributed to ballast water. When lionfish were first noticed in Belize in 2008, and soon spotted in the Bay Islands, managers had little time to plan a response. The lionfish began invading the shallow reefs and within two years they could be found around the whole region. In 2009, lionfish (Pterois spp.) were observed in the Bay Islands National Park, a protected area spanning 6,471.5 km2, with several management categories, ranging from no-take zones to multiple use areas. 

Lionfish, an invasive species in the Caribbean. © Antonio Busiello.

Lionfish, an invasive species in the Caribbean. © Antonio Busiello.

Managers in the Bay Islands noticed declines in reef fish biomass across the Bay Islands – even in areas with fewer resident lionfish. One alarming discovery was the decrease in cleaner fish like the damselfish (Stegastes spp.). Cleaner fish are comprised of many different species but share a common mutualistic behavior – they feed on the dead skin and parasites of other fish. Cleaner fish are particularly vulnerable because they are unaware that the lionfish are predators and approach the lionfish to remove dead skin and parasites. Researchers were also finding larvae of many native fish in the guts of lionfish when they were dissected.

Actions Taken
In Honduras, the national government provides no funding to manage the reef systems of the Bay Islands, so local and international NGOs must seek grants to support reef management. With the increasing numbers of lionfish on the Bay Islands’ reefs, managers and local NGOs began strategizing ways to rid the area of these invasive species. When lionfish became a problem throughout the Bay Islands and a problem for all NGOs in the region, they decided to join forces to find a strategy to eradicate the invader. They tried using nets, traps, and a “suction method” in which lionfish were siphoned out of the water with a PVC pipe. In addition to this, and, inspired by its success in the eastern Caribbean, managers began to target lionfish by spearfishing. They found spearfishing to be the most successful method to remove the fish.

The local Bay Islands NGOs worked together to successfully petition the Fisheries Department to allow permits for spearfishing lionfish. Both Roatán Marine Park and Bay Islands Conservation Association Utila helped to train divers, such as staff from local dive shops and advanced divers, to find and spear lionfish on the protected reefs. The training helped to foster better relationships between different NGOs in the area. Different local and international NGOs including the Healthy Reefs Initiative, and the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), began learning from one another and working together.

Funding for the training came from a combination of individual divers paying for training and through a voluntary tax (or user fee) that dive centers agreed to put on their services. Licenses were only given to dive instructors and dive masters. Since most of these volunteers are foreigners with higher incomes, they were able to pay for the licenses themselves. For about $35, volunteers can purchase a license, a spear, and one hour of training. The voluntary tax revenue is put towards eradication of lionfish from the Bay Island reefs as well as patrolling and environmental education.   

Diver on Cordelia Banks, Roatan © Dano Pendygrasse.

Local skilled fishers (mainly from the Garifuna community) are also being trained to catch (without SCUBA), clean, cook, and market lionfish. Lionfish can now be found on the menu of 40 restaurants on Utila and Roatán, with fillets being sold to mainland grocery stores and delis.

How Successful Has it Been?
Spearfishing is decreasing numbers of lionfish in the Bay Islands. However, it is only effective if it is done in conjunction with properly managed areas. Though it is too early to tell the overall effect of the spearfishing initiative, ongoing assessments of the reefs reveal that there is an increase in biomass of reef fish where lionfish are hunted.

An ongoing challenge of the spearfishing project is the potential abuse of permit rights. Some local fishermen, who are trained and given licenses, illegally hunt protected reef fish, such as snapper and grouper. This is clearly seen when patrol boats find these fish speared in local fishers boats around the islands.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Partnerships between local and international NGOs: The widespread lionfish invasion compelled many local NGOs to come together. This partnership has allowed NGOs to pool their resources and expertise and has led to better managed marine protected areas.
  • A united front: The NGOs presenting a united front was important to improving the visibility of Bay Islands’ conservation issues at the national and international level. Where there were once many separately managed MPAs, there is now one large MPA, the Bay Islands National Marine Park. The NGOs coordinate their messages and their initiatives, which has been helpful in asking the government to grant licenses for spearfishing lionfish.
  • The need for a “middle man”: International NGOs like CORAL and the Healthy Reefs Initiative, help to create neutral ground in a contentious local NGO environment. The monitoring training also helped to bring together local NGOs.
  • Spearfishing only works with concurrent management: Reefs that were found to be more resilient to the lionfish invasion were those reefs that were already adequately managed. For example, areas that had better water quality and higher levels of surveillance/enforcement had higher populations of grouper (Epinephelus sp. and Mycteroperca sp.) and other animals that predate lionfish. In areas with higher diversity, unlikely predators might emerge. For example, sharks and eels have been found to prey on lionfish and sharks can be trained by divers to eat lionfish. In shark sanctuary sites there are fewer and smaller lionfish than in sites with fewer sharks.

Funding Summary

Eighty percent of the enforcement and environmental education projects carried out by the Roatán Marine Park are funded through voluntary taxes from dive shops and an eco-store that is locally managed. About 20% of program work is funded through grants.

Lead Organizations
Healthy Reefs Initiative
Coral Reef Alliance
Bay Islands Conservation Association Utila
Roatán Marine Park
Utila Center for Marine Ecology
The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment Program

Government of Honduras

Roatán Marine Park Lionfish Program
Lionfish Guide to Control and Management

Written by: Ian Drysdale, Honduras Coordinator for the Healthy Reefs Initiative
Jenny Myton, Honduras Field Rep for the Coral Reef Alliance
Giacomo Palavicini, Executive Director of the Roatán Marine Park

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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Experiment Mimics Fishing on Parrotfish: Insights on Coral Reef Recovery and Alternative Attractors

Alternative stable states and phase shifts of coral- to algae- dominated systems has been observed on Caribbean coral reefs with little or no signs of recovery. To better understand the mechanism by which depletion of herbivores leads to a loss of coral, large parrotfish were excluded from coral nursery habitat in two locations on the Belizean Barrier Reef, Glovers Reef and Carrie Bow Cay. Mimicking the removal of large fish by fishing, the authors used ‘parrotfish deterrents’ (PDs) around coral settlement plates and studied herbivory and macroalgae abundance. At both sites algae abundance was found to reduce coral recruitment. Porites coral failed to recruit at medium levels of algae and was more negatively impacted than Agaricia coral. These finding along with other studies suggest that algal abundance is a proximate driver of coral recruitment and thus recovery of Caribbean coral reefs.

Author: Steneck, R.S., S.N. Arnold, and P.J. Mumby
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Marine Ecology Progress Series 506: 115–127. doi: 10.3354/meps10764

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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. 

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:

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

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)

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

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

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Tobago – Disturbance Response

A Bleaching Response Plan Leads to Increased Protection of Tobago’s Reefs

Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

The Challenge
Tobago represents the southern limit for reef building corals in the Caribbean. Two areas in Tobago are renowned for their coral reefs. The first, Buccoo Reef, is a fringing reef, enclosing the Bon Accord Lagoon. The second is in Speyside and hosts the western hemisphere’s second largest brain coral. Other smaller and lesser known reef areas fringe around Tobago’s shoreline. Approximately 30 km of semi-contiguous fringing reef surrounds the island, which supports rich biodiversity and provides ecosystem services, such as food, tourism and coastal protection that were valued at contributing to over 50% of Tobago’s GDP (in 2008). The reefs are characterized by seasonal pulses of river discharge from South America, in particular the Orinoco River during the rainy season (June–December). Riverine inputs include freshwater, sediment and nutrients, which result in sub-optimal reef building conditions during the wet season. As a result, Tobago’s reefs have evolved, developed and adapted to wide ranging environmental fluctuations, which include seasonal pulses of acute riverine disturbance.

Reef health on the island is threatened by a combination of natural (hurricanes) and anthropogenic factors acting on various scales. The key threats are land-based pollution, sedimentation, and habitat degradation. In recent years, climate change-induced events (such as bleaching) and subsequent disease outbreaks as well as invasive alien species (such as lionfish: Pterois volitans and P. miles) have become a serious challenge. The influx of nutrients from agricultural and sewage sources, as well as prolonged periods of high sediment loading of coastal waters from land-based runoff, are thought to be major local scale contributors to the overall degradation of reefs. The maintenance or restoration of water quality as a result of nutrient enrichment and sediment loading on the reefs is arguably the most critical marine environmental issue confronting Tobago. Unfortunately, there is no national overview of the extent and levels of nutrients and toxicants found in coastal waters and sediments. Neither is there national-scale information on the emission of toxicants from diffuse pollution sources. The degradation caused by diffuse sources remains largely unchecked and unidentifiable.

Prioritizing environmental and marine conservation, especially with direct users, is a major challenge. Tourism has declined dramatically, and fewer new visitors are coming to the island. While stakeholders recognize the importance of reef conservation, they struggle to keep their businesses afloat.

Buccoo Reef

Buccoo Reef restricted area.

Actions Taken
Recognizing the socioeconomic importance of coral reefs to the island, the complexity of threats compromising reef resilience, and limited local capacity to manage the issues, the Tobago House of Assembly (responsible for the management of coral reefs around the island), in collaboration with other state and non-governmental agencies, has initiated various initiatives toward the preservation and improved resilience of the island’s reef resources. The reefs on the southwest side of the island (Buccoo Reef) have been designated a no-take marine protected area (MPA) and represent the only MPA on the island.

A coral reef monitoring and research program has been established to monitor reef health, temperature anomalies, and connectivity, and to guide restoration and management as well as identify resilient reef sites for future conservation. In tandem, community-based management programs (Speyside Marine Area Community Based Management Project, Tobago Coastal Ecosystem Mapping Project), education and awareness programs (“Sea, Sun and Science”, and “Sea and Me”) and capacity-building programs (Coastal and Marine Management and Education in the South Eastern Caribbean, tour guide training, Reef Check, Coral Reef Crime Scene Investigation, mooring buoy deployment and maintenance) have been streamlined to support reef conservation initiatives. Further, recognizing the conflicts between human use needs and the environment within the coastal zone, an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Policy framework is being generated in a collaborative effort supported by the THA to guide future coastal development in Tobago.

Jahson Alemu I

Photo © Jahson Alemu

Following the 2010 mass bleaching event, and guided by support from the Buccoo Reef Management Committee, The Nature Conservancy and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), developed a response plan to monitor and assess the impacts of bleaching events on the island. The plan consists of an early warning system (EWS), bleaching assessment and monitoring, and a communication plan. It also coordinates the response of stakeholder groups (state and NGO). Critical to the success of the EWS is a network of state, NGO, private sector (dive tour operators, boat tour operators, and hoteliers) and recreationalists that act as a first source of information for disturbances (coral bleaching, algal blooms, and invasive species) noted on the reef. Enhancing and expanding the potential of the Bleaching Response Plan are two IKON Coral Reef Early Warning Systems (CREWS) which will measure near real time SST and other ancillary oceanographic and meteorological data readily accessible to the public. On a national scale, these two tools will assist Tobago on its way to eco-forecasting and adapting to climate change impacts.

Jahson working

Photo © Jahson Alemu

How successful has it been?
In 2010, a mass coral bleaching event occurred on Tobago reefs, but unlike previous events the local managers were ready. An informal Bleaching Response Plan (subsequently formalized) resulted in the coordinated efforts of park managers, fisheries officers, marine scientist and dive operators to assess the impact of the bleaching, and communicate the implications to the public. This was the first time such an approach was used in regards to coral bleaching in Trinidad and Tobago. The implementation of the Bleaching Response Plan resulted in the identification of several potential nodes of resilience, as well as the identification of resilient species (three major sites are discussed in Alemu and Clement 2014). This information has, to an extent, been mainstreamed into the decision support system for reef management in the selection of future project sites and MPA locations.  However, various limitations continue to slow the pace of  reef conservation on the island.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

  • A history of poor management, poor enforcement, and perceived neglect have made it difficult for new projects and programs to be easily accepted by communities. Securing and demonstrating government support to projects and to the stakeholders is key to overcoming this hurdle.
  • More success stories and fewer lessons learned will empower stakeholders, and reinforce that their efforts can have a positive and beneficial impact.
  • For the sustainability of projects like these where stakeholder participation is key, more effort should be invested in the conversation with stakeholders before project/program development rather than after, to ensure that their needs are being met, rather than trying to mesh a project’s needs with stakeholder wants.
  • Limited capacity and resources mean that any new plan results in more work for already strained agencies. Plans, protocols and projects should simply and clearly outline roles, responsibilities, and deadlines. Additionally, the success of a bleaching response plan will be more easily accepted if it can be incorporated into an existing work plan or existing project or budget line.
  • Continued communication with stakeholder groups, even after a reef disturbance (e.g. mass coral bleaching), is necessary to maintain strong relationships and support for future efforts e.g. lionfish invasion.
  • Not all stakeholders have the same feeling about reef conservation – the response plan should be flexible enough to incorporate the needs of the stakeholders.
  • Strong leaders should be identified within the local community or stakeholders to drive the process and ensure long term success.

Funding Summary
The Nature Conservancy
The Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago
Tobago House of Assembly
Tobago Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries

Lead Organizations
Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago

The Nature Conservancy
Tobago Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries

Managing for Disturbance
Mass Coral Bleaching in 2010 in the Southern Caribbean

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Florida – Disturbance Response

Disturbance Response and Monitoring Program in Action in the Florida Keys

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

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

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

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