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Year in Review

In 2016, The Reef Resilience Network convened hundreds of marine resource managers, scientists, and decision-makers to inspire greater collaboration, share cutting-edge resilience science, and improve management decisions.

The International Coral Reef Symposium and World Conservation Congress offered ideal venues to further this work, as well as share lessons learned during the Network’s ten years. Notable scientific contributions include our research collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to identify coral reef refuges in Palau in the face of increasing thermal stress and ocean acidity.

Take a look at our Year in Review to see our latest efforts in helping marine managers manage  coral reefs more effectively. 

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Building Coral Reef Resilience Through Assisted Evolution

There is concern that elevated sea temperatures and ocean acidification may influence the resilience of coral reefs, inherently affecting their vital role of providing the structure which maintains ecosystem services around the world. This review explores the idea of artificially enhancing the ability of reef building organisms to handle stress and accelerate recovery after impact. While there is concern that artificially manipulated organisms may have a biological advantage over endemic species, corals are good candidates for assisted evolution. The authors advocate that stress exposure to natural stock, active modification of community composition of coral symbionts, selective breeding, and laboratory breeding of the symbionts all warrant research attention. As controversy continues to surround these ideas, it is important to consider that assisted evolution strategies such as these may increase the adaptive capacity of corals, perhaps allowing them to better respond to environmental and anthropogenic stressors more easily, in turn directly enhancing resilience.

Author: van Oppen, M.J.H., J.K. Oliver, H.M. Putnam, and R.D. Gates
Year: 2015
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Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(8): 2307-2313

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Marine Protected Areas Increase Resilience Among Coral Reef Communities

Whether or not marine protected areas (MPAs) can help mitigate the effects of multiple stressors and promote coral reef resilience around the world remains controversial. This study investigates community resistance both within MPAs and in areas which experienced a change in their protection status on reef communities on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). In using models for data analysis, it was found that fish and benthic assemblages were more stable on reefs inside MPAs despite experiencing a higher frequency of disturbance than reefs in non-MPA areas. While spatial and environmental characteristics were found to be similar across both MPAs and non-MPAs, non-MPA sites demonstrated highly variable assemblages of fish and benthic communities. There was a clear stabilization of these assemblages after a site was granted increased levels of protection. MPAs were found to be further advantageous as stressors were found to have limited influence on community composition and communities were able to recover faster than those in non-MPA sites. It is concluded that MPAs have increased both the resistance and recovery of coral reef communities in the shallow areas of the GBR. While MPAs are widespread around the world, they remain controversial in some areas. Knowing that these areas of increased protection can help increase reef resilience and perhaps slow the decline of coral cover in cases of disturbance, MPAs should receive continual support as utilization as effective management tools in the promotion of coral reef resilience.

Author: Mellin, C., M.A. MacNeil, A.J. Cheal, M.J. Emslie, and M.J. Caley
Year: 2016
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Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Ecology Letters 19(6): 629–637. doi: 10.1111/ele.12598

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Synergistic Impacts of Global Warming on the Resilience of Coral Reefs

There have been few investigations on the effects of climate change on coral reef resilience. This study focuses on how a single climate driver, sea surface temperature (SST), can both chronically (growth rate) and acutely (bleaching) affect coral reefs. A spatially explicit model was used to simulate the effects of both chronic and acute thermal stress when acting together and separately. As expected, when thermal stress does not affect reefs, coral cover increases over time. Acute thermal disturbances were found to considerably reduce coral cover and reduce reef resilience. Chronic thermal disturbances lowered resilience, but at a much smaller magnitude than those that were acute. When acting together, acute and chronic stressors act in synergism to reduce resilience. In moving forward in a changing climate, the authors argue that it is imperative to consider synergism among stressors when thinking about the future impact of climate change on reef resilience. Additionally, since reef state, or percent coral cover, and reef resilience are largely unrelated, management efforts should not be solely focused on coral cover as resilience episodes may go unnoticed. It is reef resilience that will ultimately help to identify and hopefully repair ecosystem dysfunction before any stress or damage inflicted becomes permanent.

Author: Bozec, Y-M. and P.J. Mumby
Year: 2015
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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370: 20130267

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Bright Spots Among the World’s Coral Reefs

This study suggests that we can learn a significant amount about coral reef decline by identifying outliers. These outliers include areas where ecosystems performed better than expected, bright spots, and areas where ecosystems performed worse than expected in the presence of local environmental and socioeconomic pressures, dark spots. Data was compiled from more than 2500 reefs worldwide and a Bayesian hierarchical model was developed to determine the relationship between fish biomass of standing stocks related to 18 different environmental and socioeconomic drivers. 15 bright spots and 35 dark spots were identified. Bright spots were characterized by strong sociocultural institutions, high levels of local engagement in management, high dependence on marine resources, and beneficial environmental conditions. Dark spots saw high levels of fish capture, innovative storage technology, and a recent history of environmental shock. These findings suggest that bright spots can be used to broaden the discussion on coral reef conservation, help target areas other than those that are remote and pristine, and help to renew the focus of management on the socioeconomic drivers that impact reef condition. Dark spots will help identify strategies to avoid in coral reef management, while bright spots may be a key in reef resilience in the future as they will help create a long term sustainability plan for reefs impacted by layers of stress.

Author: Cinner, J.E., C. Huchery, M.A. MacNeil, N.A.J. Graham, T.R. McClanahan, J. Maina, E. Maire, J.N. Kittinger, C.C. Hicks, C. Mora, E.H. Allison, S.D. Agata, A. Hoey, D.A. Feary, L. Crowder, I.D. Williams, M. Kulbicki, L. Vigliola, L. Wantiez, G. Edgar, R.D. Stuart-Smith, S.A. Sandin, A.L. Green, M.J. Hardt, M. Beger, A. Friedlander, S.J. Campbell, K.E. Holmes, S.K. Wilson, E. Brokovich, A.J. Brooks, J.J. Cruz-Motta, D.J. Booth, P. Chabanet, C. Gough, M. Tupper, S.C.A. Ferse, U.R. Sumaila, and D. Mouillot
Year: 2016
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Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Nature 535: 416-419. doi:10.1038/nature18607

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Operationalising Resilience for Adaptive Coral Reef Management Under Global Environmental Change

In a world where coral reefs face continual and mounting pressures, there is a need for adaptive resilience based management (ARBM) of these systems to help managers hone in on supporting resilience. Focusing on reef resilience allows a unique opportunity to develop a more integrated and dynamic approach when dealing with the synergistic impact of global and local stressors. It is suggested that ARBM may be enhanced through the integration of key principles such as ecosystem vulnerability, ecological resilience, and disturbance regimes. As stressors continue to mount, management plans will have to consider alternatives which can simultaneously help coral reefs deal with stressors and enhance their resilience. This publication utilizes stability landscape resilience models to demonstrate how the presence of different stressors alters the resilience of coral reefs and may lead them to shift to an alternative state of dominance. The three broad elements acting as a decision support framework for ARBM are the management system, the environmental and anthropogenic drivers/activities leading to stress on the ecosystem, and the link between the social and ecological systems. The four different action pathways that coincide with this framework include management of drivers or activities leading to stress, managing stressors directly, supporting ecosystem resilience, or supporting social resilience. It is suggested that in order to get a clear picture of reef resilience, indicators including structural complexity, coral disease prevalence, substrate quality, and distribution of key functional groups, be used instead of the traditional coral cover and fish abundance. Understanding how pulse and press stressors affect indicators such as these will help immensely in ARBM which provides a pathway to help understand how resilience concepts can be incorporated with conservation and decision making. ARBM ultimately bridges the gap between theory and practice and will help prioritize what areas management efforts should target.

Author: Anthony, K.R.N., P.A. Marshall, A. Abdulla, R. Beeden. C. Bergh, R. Black, C.M. Eaking, E.T. Game, M. Gooch, N.A.J. Graham, A. Green, S.F. Heron, R. van Hooidonk, C. Knowland, S. Mangubhai, N. Marshall, J.A. Maynard, P. McGinnity, E. McLeod, P.J. Mumby, M. Nyström, D. Obura, J. Oliver, H.P. Possingham, R.L. Pressey, G.P. Rowlands, J. Tamelander, D. Wachenfeld, and S. Wear
Year: 2015
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Global Change Biology. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12700

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Reef Resilience Indicators – Hawai‘i, 2016

During the IUCN World Conservation Congress, twenty-seven marine resource managers, scientists, and practitioners, representing nine countries, attended a half-day workshop to learn how to monitor coral reefs for resilience and use this information to guide management.

Workshop participants learned about resilience-based management – what it is, why it’s important, and how they can incorporate resilience concepts and strategies into existing management efforts. They got a behind the scenes look into The Nature Conservancy’s reef resilience assessment for west Hawai’i Island (what it takes to conduct an ecological resilience assessment from planning and data collection to analysis) from the Hawai’i Program’s Marine Science Director Dr. Eric Conklin. They were also treated to examples and stories from across the globe about how the results of resilience assessments have translated into management and policy from Dr. Rodney Salm, Senior Advisor, Marine Program Pacific Division, The Nature Conservancy.

Twelve of the workshop participants joined the second session – an afternoon snorkel trip to two reefs in Kaneohe Bay to provide guidance on identifying resilience indicators in the field.

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Resilience-based Management – Philippines, 2016

This training brought together marine managers from 28 countries around the world. Topics included resilience-based management, resilience assessment data, tools and methods, future directions, as well as an overview of the current global-scale coral bleaching event and the tools available for monitoring thermal stress. The Reef Resilience Network tools and trainings for implementing resilience-based management and examples and best practices for conducting resilience assessments from planning the assessment through to collecting, analyzing and interpreting the data to inform management were shared. Case studies demonstrated how assessments have been used to inform management and policy decisions.

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Climate Change Tools – Seychelles, 2015

In cooperation with NOAA’s International MPA Capacity Building Program and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, we hosted a hands-on training for MPA managers and practitioners in the Western Indian Ocean region on tools to address climate change and enhance resilience within their MPAs. Twenty-six participants from eight countries in the region attended this week-long training on marine spatial planning, coastal processes with implications for management, and basic marine and coastal monitoring protocols, including hands-on training to monitor sea urchin density, structural complexity of the benthos, fish identification and sizing, and beach profiling. Read the report.
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