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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Sint Maarten – MPA Design

The Establishment of Man of Shoals Marine Park in Sint Maarten, Caribbean

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, West Indies

Coral reef in St. Maarten. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

Coral reef in St. Maarten. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

The Challenge
The island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, in the West Indies, is divided between the French Saint Martin in the North (53 km2) and the Dutch Sint Maarten in the South (34 km2). St. Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island is surrounded by about 20 km2 of coral reefs.

St. Maarten experienced its first tourism boom starting in the 1960s, when Cuba was first closed to tourism. St. Maarten is now one of the largest tourism hubs in the West Indies with about 85% of its workforce employed in tourism or tourism-related industries. There is no large-scale commercial fishery, only 10-15 artisanal fishers and recreational fishing for marlin (Makaira spp.) and mahi-mahi (Coryphaena spp.).

Until recently, there was little government management of the marine environment in St. Maarten. In 1997, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten was established in order to set up and manage a marine park in St. Maarten, under contract from the St. Maarten government. St. Maarten was the only country in the Dutch Caribbean that did not have a marine park, therefore the proposal aimed to achieve parity between St. Maarten and the other states of the Dutch Caribbean. The proposed park’s design was based on the design of a marine protected area in Bonaire. However, this design was too extensive (it would have included all of St. Maarten’s territorial waters) and too complicated to gain political support. The interests of the cruise ship industry, fishers, and dive shop operators made this challenging for politicians in St. Maarten. Furthermore, while Bonaire’s protected area had a staff of 54, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten had only three people on staff. The park remained an entity only on paper until 2010.

St. Maarten’s reefs have incurred long-term degradation due to the rapid growth of tourism and poor urban planning and infrastructure and lack of watershed management. Hurricanes and mass coral bleaching events have led to an 80% reduction in coral cover in the near-shore environment.

Staff monitoring in Man of Shoals Marine Park. © Mauricio Handler/ DCNA/ NPL

Staff monitoring in Man of Shoals Marine Park. © Mauricio Handler/ DCNA/ NPL

Actions Taken
In 2010, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten was officially reactivated to create a well-managed marine park, with a strict no-take area to address increasing threats. The Foundation took a three-pronged approach to get support from decision makers on marine park establishment. First, the Foundation did an ecological assessment of St. Maarten’s reefs. This baseline study pinpointed specific areas – the country’s remaining healthy reefs – as a high priority for conservation. They redesigned the proposed park so that it would protect just those areas – representing 25% of the country’s territorial waters, and covering 10,000 hectares.

Next, an economic valuation study of the marine ecosystem was completed using a method from the World Resources Institute. This quick-and-dirty method was designed to be easy-to-use by managers. By interviewing dive shop owners, fishers, tourists and other tourism industry stakeholders, the study was able to paint a compelling picture of the importance of a healthy marine ecosystem to St. Maarten’s economy.

Finally, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten took the results from both the ecological assessment and economic valuation study to the community to make their case for the marine park. The Foundation made presentations at community meetings, talked with fishermen and dive operators, and presented to Parliament. On December 30, 2010, the Man of Shoals Marine Park was established.

One of the first steps for the marine park was the design of a mooring system for dive boats to prevent further damage from anchoring directly on the reef. Prior to and during the establishment of the marine park, the foundation conducted wide-scale outreach to explain why anchors damage the reef. Following the establishment of the park, small businesses in St. Maarten paid for the construction of a mooring system drilled into the substrate.


Hawksbill turtle. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

In the near future, the Foundation hopes to expand the park to 35,000 hectares, which will make it continuous with a park on the French side of the island. Because the current boundaries of the park include the parts of the reef that were best for fishing and diving, those areas with the calmest waters and the healthiest reefs, the expansion is an easier case to make, since it will include choppier waters that are used less for fishing and diving.

How successful has it been?
The Foundation has documented an increase in the populations in certain species of fish through yearly surveys. In 2013, they found that grouper and snapper populations have rebounded, showing a 10-15% increase and fishers are reporting increased catch. The Foundation has begun staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) nurseries and they hope to transplant these stocks to areas with high water quality to quicken the reef’s recovery.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Stakeholder involvement is key. Involving stakeholders and the local community is key to achieving conservation goals. The Foundation went to community groups and community council meetings and gave short and simple presentations. Instead of following these presentations with a traditional question-and-answer session, the Foundation personnel solicited feedback from everyone. By making these sessions informal, they were able to talk and listen to people, and therefore more effectively communicate with community members in a manner that was more comfortable for them.
  • Economic valuation of ecosystems is a powerful, persuasive tool. While it can be controversial, it helped make the case for conservation by showing the economic benefits of ecosystem services which was an effective way to reach key decision makers.
  • Effective communication should be a priority. Communicating the importance of conservation can be challenging, but to get political and popular support for conservation, scientists must do so through all the means available (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and traditional media).

Lead Organization
Nature Foundation St. Maarten

Partner Organization
Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance

Funding Summary
Prince Bernhard Nature Fund
U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Caribbean Environment Program, United Nations Environment Program
World Wildlife Fund Netherlands
Implementing Organization of the Foundation for the Development of the Netherlands Antilles (USONA)
MINA Fund Netherlands Antilles
KNAP Fund Netherlands Antilles
The INNO Fund
Bunchies Garage & Trucking NV
Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA)
St. Maarten Harbour Holding Company (SHHC)
St. Maarten Tourist Office
Dutch National Postcode Lottery
SOL Antilles

The Government of Sint Maarten

Coastal Capital: Ecosystem Valuation for Decision Making in the Caribbean, World Resources Institute

Written by: Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation St. Maarten, Sint Maarten

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

LocationBay 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 (pdf)

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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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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Dive Against Debris

Participate in or join a Dive Against Debris event. Dates Vary.

Dive against debrisIn response to the onslaught of marine debris, one of the biggest ocean issues of our time, Project AWARE launched Dive Against Debris. Created by divers for divers, this global, underwater survey of rubbish is designed to increase debris removal efforts, prevent harm to marine life and connect your underwater actions to policy changes and prevention.

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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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