About RTI

The mission of the Reefs Tomorrow Initiative is to advance coral reef science, management, and conservation through interdisciplinary study of reef resilience, and to work with managers to apply this new understanding to reef conservation. In practice, this work involves a tight coupling of empirical research, theoretical modeling, and applied conservation.

Our work is motivated by the observation that though many coral reefs are declining in health, some are faring reasonably well even in the face of environmental disturbance. Increasingly, scientists are looking to the concept of ecological resilience to explain the difference in these two outcomes. Resilience is the ability of a system to either retain or recover to a particular state following a disturbance.

To date, most scientific research on reef resilience has examined single factors, leaving us without the scientific tools to measure coral reef resilience when many stressors affect the reef at the same time. Until scientists can describe what it will take for reefs to remain resilient, our advice will not be any better than, “herbivores are good for reefs, and nutrient pollution is bad for reefs.” Yet real world management questions are more nuanced and often involve tradeoffs: how many herbivores are needed; how much nutrient pollution can reefs take; should management focus on overfishing or coastal development? Current attempts to answer these questions are rarely quantitative, adding up to little more than educated guesswork.

The Reefs Tomorrow Initiative is an interdisciplinary team of world experts who are examining how multiple factors interact on a reef, and how these interactions may be affected by a changing climate. To accomplish this, we have launched an ambitious two-phase, inter-disciplinary, multi-institutional research initiative. During Phase I, launched in August of 2012 with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, we are working to develop a novel reef resilience model – based on syntheses of existing data and targeted new observations, and informed by a systematic analysis of management and conservation needs – that will fill a critical gap in coral reef science while laying the groundwork for future application to conservation and management. Throughout Phase I, we are seeking additional financial resources to launch Phase II, which will add new program elements focusing on experimental manipulations, expanded scope of data collection, refined models, and tools that effectively communicate scientific findings for use in applied conservation and management. By the end of Phase II, we will have measured and modeled aspects of ecological resilience on Pacific coral reefs, while offering concrete guidance to enable and enhance reef management and conservation.

If you would like to learn more about the Reefs Tomorrow Initiative, you can download this project overview and concept diagram, which shows the two phases of our project, or contact us for more information.