Evaluation of the Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef System 2010-2015

Mallory Morgan
Posted on: 6/25/2015 - Updated on: 6/21/2024

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Mallory Morgan

Project Summary

This project seeks to evaluate success and implementation of the Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef System 2010-2015 (Action Plan)Spearheaded by EcoAdapt and the Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) in 2008-2009, the Action Plan was the result of a multiyear collaborative effort amongst stakeholders including coral reef scientists, managers, research institutions, divers, fishers, and various regional user groups. The Action Plan aimed to reduce local impacts to Florida’s reefs in order to increase reef resilience to the negative impacts associated with climate change. The Action Plan also identified actions to be incorporated into reef management plans to address a myriad of climatic and non-climatic stressors to the system, actions to minimize risks to coral reef dependent people and industries, and targeted research priorities. Now in the final year of the Action Plan, the status and degree of implementation of the plan’s 40 recommendations is unknown due to a lack of monitoring and benchmarks in the plan’s design. Without quantitative indicators built into the Action Plan, a qualitative assessment was designed and executed. Through stakeholder interviews, surveys, and independent Internet research this project assessed to which degree the recommended actions had been implemented. A scorecard was then developed to consolidate information on the management strategies underway that contribute to the success of the Action Plan. The scorecard will ultimately enhance communication among stakeholder groups and various governmental agencies regarding collective progress. This also provides a blueprint for a future plan moving forward. This review process has demonstrated the great benefits and value of monitoring and evaluation in climate change action plans with application worldwide.


As is the challenge with many ecosystems, Florida’s 300-nautical-mile-reef tract is overseen by a multitude of jurisdictions and management layers including Federal and State agencies, five counties, and hundreds of municipalities. Jurisdictional boundaries frequently overlap with the large number of state parks, national wildlife refuges, and national parks established in this coral reef ecosystem.  Management is further complicated by input from user groups such as the boating, diving, recreational and commercial fishing industries, and conservation organizations. Major players in the region include the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI), Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and The Nature Conservancy.

The Action Plan is the first of its kind to look at the Florida reef tract as a whole system and attempts to connect climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts across the board from the municipal to the federal level. The comprehensive document calls for action on a wide variety of issues including but not limited to:

  • Research
  • Coral bleaching
  • Ocean acidification
  • Threatened & Endangered species
  • Sea level rise
  • Fisheries
  • Water quality impacts
  • Beach nourishment
  • Dredging
  • Range shifts and habitat transitions
  • Coastal development
  • Training for ecosystem managers
  • Ghost fishing
  • School curricula
  • Business adaptation plans
  • Climate-smart business recognition
  • Irreversible damage thresholds
  • Novel intervention measures

Broken down into three major outcomes, the Action Plan contains 40 action items total that aim to:

  1. Increase coral reef resilience to climate change through effective management strategies and actions,
  2. Identify the risks climate change poses to Florida’s coral reef-dependent people and industries, communicate those risks to affected parties and work with them to develop adaptation strategies that minimize those risks, and
  3. Strengthen the scientific foundation supporting strategic management of the Florida Reef System through targeted research, long-term monitoring, and forecasting climate change and ocean acidification impacts.


Stakeholder surveys and data collection was carried out through personal interviews, online surveys, and independent Internet research. Interviewees were selected based on their professional occupancy of positions most familiar with management action in the Florida reef tract and included state and federal managers, fishers, divers, and other stakeholders in the community. Respondents to the online survey were randomized and mass emailed through various professional networks. Most participants were slightly familiar with the Action Plan, but commented they had not revisited it since 2009.

In-person interviews took place throughout the Florida Keys, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. Thirteen face-to-face interviews were conducted with a variety of stakeholders including SEFCRI, MOTE Marine Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, Monroe County, the City of Marathon, Coral Restoration Foundation, and Keys Diver Dive Shop. Subjects were given specific instructions to 1) only provide information relevant to the Action Plan’s time frame, between the years of 2010-2015, 2) provide specific names of projects and examples how the action item has been addressed with the date, and 3) to what extent did the respondent feel the action had been addressed: fully, partially, or not yet addressed. Interviewees reviewed each action item one by one in most cases, whereas some interviews only discussed a subset of actions when time was limited.

This phase was the most critical component of the project as it produced the most thorough responses. It was initially assumed most information would come from online surveys, but once the project commenced it quickly became apparent valuable information and deeper insights were facilitated through conversation not otherwise revealed through online surveying. Issues were explored in further depth, and complexities were clarified through discussion. Compounding this, there was far less participation in the online survey than expected. This is likely due to an overload of correspondence received in one’s inbox daily. For this reason, resources for on-the-ground surveying should be budgeted into an evaluation of a plan in the project’s design whenever possible.

Phone interviews were held with participants when there were conflicting schedules, or when the participant was not physically present in the project study area. Phone interviews were conducted with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Sea Grant, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and the National Park Service. With full permission, all in-person interviews were recorded with a GoPro and later personally transcribed for synthesis of information to create the final report. This phase was not recorded due to lack of software, but ideally the calls should be recorded for reference during data synthesis. The same instructions and format were given as the in-person interviews previously described.

Online survey: Three surveys were developed using an online service called surveymonkey.com. The separate formats were dependent on the respondent’s demographic group. Taking into consideration the scope and breadth of the 40 action items listed in the Plan, it was unfavorable to include all actions into one general survey. Rather, actions were grouped into general management, fisheries management, and research. The goal was to facilitate greater participation by creating a shorter, more concise survey. However as previously mentioned, only 13 completed surveys were received with over 150 participants directly emailed.

This phase of the project undoubtedly required the most time. The mission of this analysis was to produce the most unbiased, objective analysis as possible. Careful consideration was given to question formatting, survey techniques, priming, and design. Dr. Ayelet Gneezy, a social scientist from the University of California San Diego, was enlisted for guidance. After months of planning and deliberation, it was accepted that for the purposes of this project, it was not possible to give a 100% objective analysis. Ultimately the survey responses and interviews are inherently subjective. However, these responses are produced from primarily those with extensive history and professional experience working on Florida’s reef tract.

Considering only 9% of people who were directly emailed in turn completed the survey, there is a clear need to better understand willingness to participate. If this project is to be replicated or applied elsewhere, there should be further time invested in securing greater online survey participation and sending follow-up emails. A $50 Visa gift card was initially offered as an incentive, but we were unable to deliver due to legal constraints on behalf of the participants’ employers. Interviewees were instructed not to complete the online survey so there was no overlap of respondents.

Internet research through meeting agendas, bulletins, news archives, various agency websites, etc. were reviewed independently and remotely to collect further data. This information is primarily used in the appendices section of the scorecard in order to provide specific URLs to various documents, projects, and actions taken.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Overall, it was found the Action Plan stands in a fairly good degree of implementation with 80% of the entire Action Plan addressed to some degree. The 40 actions were categorized into three grades: fully implemented, partially implemented, and not yet addressed. A degree of confidence was incorporated to represent the number of sources that provided information on that specific action item, as well as the level of agreement amongst respondents for each action item. One star signals low confidence while three stars signals high confidence. Of the 40 action items total, 15 actions have been completed, 17 actions are partially completed, and 8 actions have not yet been addressed.

Many successes as well as areas of opportunity were revealed throughout evaluation. Identifying successes and failures can enable us to learn from the experiences of others and invest valuable resources in the most efficient manner possible. By understanding what works in a particular system, there may be a domino effect with benefits spilling over to other parties. This is one of the most valuable outcomes of monitoring and evaluation.

The most success of the Action Plan was found in the research goals. Other major successes include the expansion of Florida Reef Resilience Program’s Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) Program and Mote’s Bleach Watch activities to include the entire five-county Florida reef system. Additionally water quality impacts are being addressed with the near completion of a centralized sewage system for the Florida Keys, and a new canal restoration project underway. The strongest single goal achieved from the Action Plan has been the region’s ability to respond to and monitor coral bleaching events.

The biggest area of opportunity is incorporating climate change science into fisheries management by utilizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s goal of “managing for sustainability of the species”. Through the Act, there exists a great opportunity in flexibility and change with management and policy. Although this is happening at the federal level, it was found it is not yet happening at the state level. The research still needs to be translated into management action. Similarly, opportunity exists in addressing the ghost fishing of abandoned lobster traps, understanding potential range shifts of species outside of traditional zoning, and integrating crisis response strategies for infectious disease outbreaks, tropical storm impacts, cold snaps, and pollutant spills on the reef. Finally, there is an inability to increase law enforcement presence and therefore regulatory compliance due to a lack of funding and human resources.

Lessons learned through this study include the direct need for specific, highly detailed language in action plans. Managers desire explicit examples of how action items can be achieved and implemented. For example, “How do you translate these big picture items into the day to day actions?” This includes realistic, attainable, and timely actions to be taken at finer temporal scales, rather than long-term goals. Additionally, action plans ought to be accompanied with implementation plans outlining benchmarks and metrics of success. These indicators are critical to track efficacy and ensure progress. Clearly defined thresholds facilitate a stronger and more efficient monitoring and evaluation process.


Morgan, M. (2015). Evaluation of the Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef System 2010-2015. Ed. Alex Score. [Case study on a project by a Scripps Institute of Oceanography student]. Retrieved from CAKE: www.cakex.org/case-studies/evaluation-climate-change-action-plan-florida-reef-system-2010-2015 (Last updated June 2015)

Project Contacts

Position: Graduate Student

Affiliated Organizations

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for ocean and earth science research, education, and public service in the world. Research foci at Scripps includes physical, chemical, biological, geological, and geophysical studies of the oceans and earths.

EcoAdapt is at the center of climate change adaptation innovation. We provide support, training, and assistance to make conservation and management less vulnerable and more Climate Savvy. Over the past 200 years, great strides have been made in the world of conservation and now all of that is at risk because of climate change. EcoAdapt is working to ensure the success of these past efforts by delivering a framework for climate adaptation.

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