Climate-smart design for ecosystem management: a test application for coral reefs

The interactive and cumulative impacts of climate change on natural resources such as coral reefs present numerous challenges for conservation planning and management. Climate change adaptation is complex due to climate-stressor interactions across multiple spatial and temporal scales. This leaves decision makers worldwide faced with local, regional, and global-scale threats to ecosystem processes and services, occurring over time frames that require both near-term and long-term planning. Thus there is a need for structured approaches to adaptation planning that integrate existing methods for vulnerability assessment with design and evaluation of effective adaptation responses. The Corals and Climate Adaptation Planning project of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force seeks to develop guidance for improving coral reef management through tailored application of a climate-smart approach. This approach is based on principles from a recently-published guide which provides a framework for adopting forward-looking goals, based on assessing vulnerabilities to climate change and applying a structured process to design effective adaptation strategies. Work presented in this paper includes: (1) examination of the climate-smart management cycle as it relates to coral reefs; (2) a compilation of adaptation strategies for coral reefs drawn from a comprehensive review of the literature; (3) in-depth demonstration of climate-smart design for place-based crafting of robust adaptation actions; and (4) feedback from stakeholders on the perceived usefulness of the approach. We conclude with a discussion of lessons-learned on integrating climate-smart design into real-world management planning processes and a call from stakeholders for an “adaptation design tool” that is now under development.

West J. M., Courtney C. A., Hamilton A. T., Parker B. A., Julius S. H., Hoffman J. & Koltes K. H., 2017. Climate-smart design for ecosystem management: a test application for coral reefs. Environmental Management 59:102. Article.

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