Editor’s note: This “Building Resilience” feature is contributed by the Reef Resilience program of The Nature Conservancy (www.reefresilience.org). The program provides guidance on building resilience to climate change into the design of MPAs.

By Rebecca Cerroni, Reef Resilience Project Manager, The Nature Conservancy

Over the past six months, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Florida Keys, coral reef MPA managers have held their collective breath as vessel groundings and extreme cold snaps have affected coral reefs within protected areas. In disasters and bleaching situations, what can coral reef managers do?

Managers should prepare for such events by developing response plans ahead of time. The response plans can be applied both to disasters (like ship groundings) and bleaching situations, and include:

  • Setting ecosystem monitoring protocols;
  • Coordinating monitoring teams among multiple agencies;
  • Planning how to communicate about the event; and
  • Discussing how to implement management interventions.

In January 2010, this process played out when colder-than-usual (45°F/ 7°C) temperatures in South Florida waters threatened coral reefs with bleaching. This led The Nature Conservancy to mobilize a Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) program that had been put in place with partners in the Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP). The primary task of the DRM program in South Florida is to conduct dive surveys over an eight-week period, monitoring impacts of an event. Although the surveys have typically focused on warm water coral bleaching, they were also designed for application to other situations such as cold water disturbance. The ability of the FRRP to respond quickly with a well-trained monitoring team underscores the importance of a coral bleaching response plan.

For more information on developing your own bleaching response plans, go to www.reefresilience.org/Toolkit_Coral/C6c2_RapidResp.html.