Bridging reef resilience research & conservation

Working in partnership with reef managers to better integrate reef science and management, and improve the fit between advances in research and ongoing and new challenges in reef conservation.

The conservation team is working to bridge the Reef Tomorrow Initiative’s dual research and conservation goals: developing new understanding of the ecological factors contributing to reef resilience, and applying this understanding to coral reef management. Reef managers often face limited resources and a number of possible management actions to address a suite of threats. RTI is improving the understanding of reef dynamics through the development of new simulation models, supported by field research, that could help inform some of the prioritization and trade-off decisions that reef managers must continually make. To ensure that this work will ultimately be useful for on-the-ground management, the conservation team includes both research scientists and conservation advisors from the tropical Pacific region. Together, these team members help facilitate reciprocal learning between diverse reef managers and RTI researchers to inform ongoing RTI research development and to plan for future conservation applications.

The conservation team’s first task was to complete a needs assessment of science information for reef management, especially within the context of small island developing states. We are using data from our assessment to characterize the ecological, social, and policy contexts of island reef managers. In particular, we assessed reef managers’ perceptions of changes to their reefs, local threats, and other social factors; existing resource management activities across different governance levels; and experience with and preferences for different science-based approaches to support decision making in resource management. Some of this knowledge has been captured from the existing conservation literature, while other information has been gained through in-person workshops and interviews, and via online questionnaires. Analyses from these efforts are informing ongoing RTI research plans. Results are also being written up as case studies of ecological and social resilience to showcase management challenges and successes, so that conservation practitioners can learn from one another. Additionally, the RTI conservation team is working with key conservation partners to facilitate the application of new scientific understandings of reef dynamics to established reef conservation programs that help support managers in the field.

This research is being led by Dr. Eleanor Sterling from the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, whose team includes Dr. Dan Brumbaugh from the University of California, Santa Cruz and the American Museum of Natural History; Dr. Eric Conklin from The Nature Conservancy’s Hawai‘i Program; and Dr. Georgina Cullman from the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. RTI’s conservation advisors include Dr. Yimnang Golbuu from the Palau International Coral Reef Center; Mr. Alec Hughes and Ms. Senoveva Mauli from the Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership; and Dr. Stacy Jupiter and Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Fiji Country Program.