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Coral Reef Resilience to Climate Change in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Coral Reef Resilience to Climate Change in CNMI: Field-based Assessments and Implications for Vulnerability and Future Management: A Pacific Islands CSC Funding Opportunity 2013 Project
Principal Investigator
Laurie Raymundo


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Coral reefs are sometimes called “rainforests of the sea” because of their immense biological diversity and economic value. While coral reefs are sensitive to changes in their environment such as altered temperature or pollution, some reefs are more resilient, or able to recover from disturbance more quickly, than others. The overarching objective of this project was to gather information on coral reef resilience and vulnerability to climate change that could inform coastal management decision-making in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Scientists collaborated with local managers to survey reefs at 78 locations throughout the CMNI and evaluate indicators of resilience, such as numbers of juvenile corals and plant-eating [...]

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“Coral in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands - Credit: NOAA”
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Reducing coral reef vulnerability to climate change requires that managers understand and support the natural resilience of coral reefs. We define coral reef resilience as the capacity of a reef to resist and/or recover from disturbance given its probable exposure regime, and maintain provision of ecosystem goods and services. Spatial variation in exposure to disturbance and the resilience of reefs in the face of those disturbances will determine the fate of coral reefs within management jurisdictions. This project sought to: (1) undertake ecological resilience assessments in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), which is in the west Pacific near Guam, and (2) collaboratively develop a decision-support framework with local manager partners for resilience-based management. Between 2012 and 2014, our team surveyed 78 sites along the 30-foot contour of the fringing reefs surrounding the most populated islands in CNMI: Saipan, Tinian/Aguijan, and Rota. These surveys, and complementary analyses using data from environmental monitoring satellites and computer models, included measurements and assessments of variables that are ‘indicators’ of the processes that underlie reef resilience (e.g., recruitment of new corals and the control of macroalgae on reefs by herbivory). The final results are scores for relative resilience potential that resulted in our ranking the survey sites within and among the islands from high to low resilience. We also assessed two proxies of anthropogenic stress: land-based sources of pollution (e.g., nutrients and sediments) and accessibility due to wave exposure (e.g., fishing access). We found resilience potential to vary greatly within and among islands and set seven custom criteria within a decision-support framework that identifies sites that warrant management attention. This project represents globally relevant progress in the novel approach of using resilience assessments to inform management decision-making. Uniquely, the project was highly collaborative, undertaken with local managers in CNMI who are using the results to inform resilience-based management and management planning.

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Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 11b76ddb-ebb9-4472-869b-b829edc45451

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