A Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef Tract (2010-2015)
Coral reefs are extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts, especially when combined with existing stresses such as land-based sources of pollution, habitat degradation, and overfishing. EcoAdapt has been working on a climate change action plan for Florida’s reefs as result of the Reef Resilience conference recommendations in 2008. The “Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef System 2010-2015” (Action Plan), developed as a collaboration of the Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) steering committee, recognized the need to reduce local impacts to increase resilience and offered a framework of adaptable actions to be implemented into reef management plans to address the complex factors associated with climate change.
Two major factors will dictate the future health of the Florida Reef Tract: the rate and extent of climate change and the resilience of Florida’s coral reef ecosystem to climate change. While the larger issue of climate change mitigation is a matter for international policy, the resilience of Florida’s coral reefs is under the influence of local management strategies. To secure the future of Florida’s coral reefs, it is essential for the agencies responsible for managing the reefs themselves, other marine natural resources, and adjacent lands and watersheds to do everything possible to restore and maintain the resilience of the ecosystem. It is critical that coordinated actions are taken to protect biodiversity, improve water quality, and ensure sustainable fishing.
Resilience-based management of the Florida Reef Tract is core business for Florida’s coral reef managers. The realization of climate change-related threats makes these efforts even more important, while also presenting new challenges and demanding further action. Without such action, Florida’s reefs face a bleak future under almost all possible future climate scenarios. By taking action, responsible federal, state, and local government agencies can provide global leadership in the management of coral reef ecosystems facing threats from climate change.
The 2010-2015 Action Plan outlined a way forward for federal, state, and local government agencies to comprehensively act to maximize the resilience of Florida’s coral reefs. The Action Plan was created as part of the recommendations from the Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) 2008 conference “Coping with Climate Change” and following the leadership of the Great Barrier Reef Climate Action Plan. It was developed as a collaboration of the FRRP steering committee, which includes NOAA, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, University of South Florida, University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative, Florida Institute of Technology, Mote Marine Laboratory, Nova Southeastern University, EcoAdapt, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef System (2010–2015) outlined priority actions for Florida’s reefs, including to:
- Continue and expand the FRRP disturbance response monitoring (DRM) and Bleach Watch throughout the entire five-county Florida Reef Tract.
- Develop and implement a comprehensive marine zoning plan that incorporates resilience to provide maximum protection from non-climate stresses for representative habitats across all reef subregions in the Florida Reef Tract to ensure connectivity between reefs, their associated nursery habitats, and among sub-regions.
- Include sea level rise adaptation and mitigation planning in county/city comprehensive plans.
- Evaluate and revise existing resilience strategies, such as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Water Quality Protection Program and the regional marine zoning network in the Florida Reef Tract, to optimize their effectiveness in the context of climate change.
- Increase reef resilience by decreasing negative user impacts of fishing, diving, and other reef users to protect habitat and key functional groups of plants and animals (for example, herbivores) as a strategy for building resilience.
- Develop scientifically-based climate change information portfolios (e.g., case studies of adaptation strategies for tourism, diving, and fisheries industries) for stakeholders including local business, industry, tourism and visitors, educators and community leaders to serve as a communication tool to inform the media, elected officials, staff, peers and the community through both traditional outlets (e.g., news media, radio, brochures, and community forums) and non-traditional outlets (e.g., social media networks, blogs, and web pages).
- Forecast and project climate change and ocean acidification-related impacts on reef-dependent social and economic systems to help reef users and industries understand the risk to their business from climate change and to prepare adaptation responses.
- Partner with key stakeholder groups, such as the dive, fishing, and tourism industry and marine/coastal business industry, and provide training opportunities to increase their understanding of the impacts of climate change and the predicted range and uncertainty of changes that will occur to help create business adaptation plans.
- Ensure long-term, consistent and comparable water quality monitoring (including temperature and pH) throughout the Florida Reef Tract that includes long-term data management, long-term funding, and integration into a coastal observing network that guides water quality management and marine resources management.
- Map areas of high and low resilience to prioritize investment of management efforts (e.g. identify and protect refugia for thermally-tolerant coral species that will provide genetic stock for recovery).
Outcomes and Conclusions
The Action Plan was designed to be adopted by local reef managers to incorporate into existing management plans, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Tortugas National Park, Biscayne National Park, and areas overseen by the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative. An evaluation determined that approximately 80% of the plan has been implemented to some degree. Oversight of the DRM program transitioned from The Nature Conservancy to the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. These annual surveys provide up-to-date information on coral bleaching and disease in Florida’s reef system.
In 2017, a reef resilience study was conducted by DEP, TNC, NOAA, and SymbioSeas to build upon the goals outlined in the Action Plan. The goal of the study was to locate and map levels of coral reef resilience to climate change across 23 sites in the Tortugas, the Florida Keys, and Southeast Florida reef tracts in order to better inform and prioritize management decisions. Sites were categorized as having high (5 sites), medium-high (9 sites), medium-low (6 sites), and low (3 sites) resilience. The high resilience sites were characterized by high levels of herbivore biomass, coral diversity, coral cover, and bleaching resistance. The results of this report may be used to better inform suitable areas for coral transplants in restoration projects.
Coral Reef Resilience to Climate Change in the Florida Reef Tract (2017)
Florida Reef Resilience Program: Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM)
Reef Resilience Network: Resilience Assessments
Score, A. (2021). A Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef Tract [Case study on a project of EcoAdapt and The Nature Conservancy - Florida Reef Resilience Program]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Version 2.0.(Last updated August 2021)