RBM in Practice

TNC Hawai‘i Program divers conducting a resilience assessment along West Hawai‘i Island coast. Photo © David Slater

Managers all over the world are integrating resilience-based management (RBM) concepts into their work and planning for the future using information from resilience assessments and managing integrated social-ecological systems. Below are few examples of holistic RBM planning and practice. Explore the following websites and presentations to see how RBM is being applied around the world.


Australia: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s opens in a new windowReef Blueprint for Resilience outlines the challenges Australia’s reefs face now and in the future, the actions the country will take to strengthen the Reef’s resilience, and its capacity to recover after disturbances and return to a healthy state. It is the primary output from a 2017 summit attended by marine park managers, Traditional Owners, government agencies, research institutions, industry groups, Reef users, and other stakeholders. The Blueprint is designed around 10 key initiatives focused on delivering maximum benefits for reef resilience.


Watch a presentation from Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and opens in a new windowdownload the presentation PDF:


USA: NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program

The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program opens in a new windowStrategic Plan will guide the agency's future coral reef research and conservation efforts. It outlines refined strategies to increase resilience to climate change, improve fisheries' sustainability and reduce land-based sources of pollution, while adding a new focus of work to restore viable coral populations. The four "pillars" of the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program are to address the top three recognized threats to coral reefs and support coral reef restoration.


Watch a presentation from NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and opens in a new windowdownload the presentation PDF:


Resilient Reefs Initiative

The Resilient Reefs Initiative is tackling the challenge of integrating – and bolstering – social and ecological reef resilience by bringing together local communities, reef managers, and resilience experts across five World Heritage reef sites. This bold new approach puts people at the center of decision making, drawing on a global resilience practice to innovate, build capacity, and drive a whole-of-community approach to address the challenges facing our treasured reefs.

Over four years, Resilient Reefs is piloting this work with five diverse World Heritage-listed coral reef sites: Great Barrier Reef, Australia; Ningaloo Coast, Australia; Lagoons of New Caledonia; Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System; and Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, Palau.  Resilient Reefs funds long term resilience planning, capacity building and implementation in the five pilot sites. This includes funding and training for a new leadership role—a Chief Resilience Officer—in the local reef management authority.

Resilient Reefs is a collaboration between the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, BHP Foundation, opens in a new windowUNESCO World Heritage Marine Programme, The Nature Conservancy’s Reef Resilience Network, Resilient Cities Catalyst, and AECOM.


Watch presentations about the opens in a new windowResilient Reefs Initiative and opens in a new windowdownload the presentation PDF:


Guam Coral Reef Resilience Strategyopens PDF file

The opens in a new window Guam Coral Reef Resilience Strategyopens PDF file (GRRS) is an adaptive, strategic framework to guide coral reef management on Guam. The goal of the GRRS is to address local stressors and enhance the resilience of Guam’s coral reef ecosystems and human communities to the impacts of climate change by 2025. The GRRS was developed by 56 individuals, representing 16 local and federal agencies, educational and research institutions, non-profit organizations, and private sector entities during the course of three years. In June 2019, the Government of Guam formally adopted the GRRS, calling for its immediate implementation.

RBM Guidance from Managers, Scientists, and Policy-Makers

At the 2019 opens in a new windowInternational Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) General Meeting, managers, scientists, and policy makers brainstormed and discussed key challenges, opportunities, communication needs, and capacity-building priorities to plan and implement RBM. Below are highlights of their observations, ideas, and recommendations, which prompted ICRI to create an ad hoc committee to identify support and develop best-practice guidance on actions that will enable members to tailor and scale up RBM to meet local, national and global needs.

Below is a list of potential opportunities RBM can provide for managers as well as opportunities to increase the adoption of RBM:

  • Empowers practitioners by validating the importance of local actions, providing an opportunity to manage reefs in the face of climate change, and linking ecosystem management and human well-being.
  • Uses existing reef monitoring assessments (e.g. vulnerability and resilience assessments) to inform priority areas for management.
  • Allows for the management of multiple impacts, providing cumulative benefits (including economic benefits) from one action, meaning it is an efficient and cost-effective approach.
  • Promotes income and livelihood benefits (e.g. a healthy environment can result in increased income through tourism activities).
  • Involves agencies and stakeholders that are not usually engaged in coral reef management, such as private sector industries, to bring new perspectives and resources.
  • May allow increased access to climate funding.
  • Opportunity to institutionalize RBM into national policy and plans.

Understanding challenges to implementing RBM ahead of time may help with planning and execution:

  • Balancing short-term outcomes and long-term timeframes: ecological recovery processes and adaptation within social systems often occur over years or decades, and this uncertainty and long timeframe to see results can be difficult to communicate to various stakeholder groups and may impact political will to implement RBM.
  • Political acceptance of RBM: a lack of political will or understanding, or resistance from decision-makers to change current management processes, can make RBM challenging to implement.
  • Communication of scientific data: ineffective communication between scientists, managers, and policy makers can occur when different “languages” are used to describe the importance of conserving reefs and RBM or results from scientific studies. (See Communication tab.)
  • Holistic management of socio-ecological systems: managers may lack the capacity (e.g., scientific expertise, skills, funding, and time) needed to assess, manage, and monitor multiple social and ecological aspects of the system.
  • Managing for uncertainty: RBM requires proactively managing to build resilience to future changes despite uncertainty and potential alternative scenarios.
  • Perceived trade-off between ecological and social values: a key component of RBM is the coupling of social-ecological systems in driving resilience and transformation, which requires communicating the importance of both ecological and social values and working with a broad range of stakeholders.
  • Lack of willingness to fail: Part of RBM is experimenting with new approaches, which requires acceptance from all parties for trial and error, adaptation, and learning from failures.

Challenges to implementing RBM often involve communicating the value and goals of RBM and setting the correct expectations with various stakeholder groups. Successful implementation of RBM requires a multi-pronged communications effort between management agencies, scientists, communities, industry, and politicians with the help of communications experts. Recommendations include:

  • Target your message to your audience: Understand who your audience is and what matters most to them; “touch their hearts and minds” by developing messages, telling stories, and using analogies that resonate with your audience; and make sure messages are simple and accessible.
  • Deliver messages through trusted messengers (voices) who resonate with your target audience.
  • As a management community, identify key shared messages around resilience and RBM and brand them. The word “resilience” means different things to different people. Key messages should be adapted, as needed, based on what your audience knows about this topic. It’s essential to explain resilience and RBM in terms of concepts and words your audience understands.

For more messaging tips, click here.

Training for different stakeholder groups is seen as a key opportunity for building capacity to implement RBM effectively. Examples include building local community knowledge through communications and citizen science programs. Management agencies may require technical training to equip them to conduct and describe the process and benefits of RBM to key decision-making authorities. Other specific recommendations include:

  • Help leaders understand RBM’s goals, approach, and the benefits it can bring.
  • Help the private sector (e.g. banks and insurance companies) understand RBM, the science, and the role they can play to further reef conservation and management.
  • Provide managers and community groups with training on sustainable financing, stakeholder analysis, how to access funds and develop partnerships, and other priority topics.
  • Foster a community of practice that can promote knowledge sharing and help this continue to advance.

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