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Project Summary / Overview
The Nature Conservancy, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, initiated the Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) in 2004 to study the health of the Florida Reef tract from the Dry Tortugas to Port St. Lucie. The FRRP seeks to determine what makes some corals more resistant than others to climate change impacts, what factors contribute to areas of high or low resistance, and why certain areas are more resilient than others. The FRRP seeks to increase the understanding of reef health in order to guide management actions that will improve the resilience of the Florida Reef tract to climate change impacts and enhance the reef-user industry.
The FRRP was designed to study the resilience of the Florida Reef tract from the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico to Port St. Lucie on the Atlantic coast. Parts of the Florida reef tract have experienced severe disturbances by bleaching events in 1983, 1987, 1990, 1997, 1998, and 2005, and a massive sea urchin die off in 1984. The combination of habitat degradation and climate change-induced stress has led to the need for the creation of a resilience program. The FRRP leads the disturbance response monitoring and coordinates research with reef scientists, users, and managers to develop strategies to increase Florida’s reef resilience. It brings scientists, managers, reef users, and reef-dependent industries together to answer five fundamental questions:
- Are any of Florida’s reefs resilient?
- If so, where are reefs resilient and where are they not?
- What factors influence resilience?
- Who depends on reefs and what do reef users want and need from coral reefs?
- What actions can people take to maintain the resilience of healthy reefs and improve the resilience of unhealthy reefs?
The FRRP was initiated in 2004 with the creation of a Memorandum of Agreement between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Since its inception, other partners have joined the FRRP efforts in a Steering Committee, including the University of South Florida, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology, Nova Southeastern University, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mote Marine Laboratory, Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne National Park, World Wildlife Fund, and EcoAdapt.
The Nature Conservancy serves as the coordinator of the FRRP efforts and leads the disturbance response monitoring efforts to monitor for coral bleaching during the hottest and longest days of summer when bleaching is most likely to occur. Other FRRP projects include staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) restoration and investigation into the human dimensions of reef resilience (e.g., snorkeling, diving, fishing). The World Wildlife Fund also contributed to the FRRP efforts with an analysis of temporal environmental parameters through the Climate Change LEADS (Linking Environmental Analysis through Decision Support) project.
Through various projects, collaborations, work with the reef user community, and the Steering Committee, the FRRP is looking into developing management recommendations to increase the resilience of the Florida Reef Tract. During the 2008 Reef Resilience Conference, Coping with Climate Change, a variety of ranked strategies were developed to help guide the development of a climate change action plan. Recommendations included:
- Developing a comprehensive plan for marine zoning based on best available science, reef resilience principles, and the needs of the community;
- Increasing enforcement, especially in resilient reef areas;
- Requiring user fees to help manage reef resources;
- Demanding strong mitigation efforts at local, regional, national, and international scales;
- Increasing environmental education;
- Decreasing pollution, particularly wastewater outfalls in south Florida; and
- Preventing dredging and other destructive practices in the area.
Project Outcomes and Conclusions
The success of the FRRP is based on the collaboration and contribution of many different agencies and institutions, participation of the reef user community, and the Steering Committee. The research and monitoring along the entire Florida reef tract has revealed the need for the development of climate change adaptation strategies to increase and enhance reef resilience. In 2008, the FRRP began the development of a climate change action plan with the Steering Committee. The result is the Florida Reef Tract Climate Change Action Plan 2010-2015, a compilation of many suggested actions needed to increase the resilience of Florida’s reefs.