Building Resilience:How Coral Reef-Dependent Communities Can Cope with Major Shocks

Building Resilience:How Coral Reef-Dependent Communities Can Cope with Major Shocks

Gyaviira Luwaga & Catherine Nakimera

This article was initially published on research gate and is available for download here


As the world continues to face a multitude of challenges, from natural disasters to economic and political upheavals, the need for resilience has never been greater. For coral reef-dependent communities, this is particularly crucial, as they are often the most vulnerable to major shocks such as coral bleaching, overfishing, floods, Tsunami’s and several other effects of climate change.

In this article, we shall delves into the possible risks, the concept of building resilience and how it can help coral reef-dependent communities cope with major shocks. Drawing upon extensive research and firsthand experience working with these communities, this article provides practical insights and actionable strategies for building resilience in the face of adversity and promulgating sustainable methods of living with the sea as the provider and living a life without it..

From developing community-based monitoring systems to promoting sustainable tourism practices, the article highlights the critical role that communication can play in building resilience and fostering long-term sustainability. Whether you area community member, NGO, or government agency working to support coral reef- dependent communities, this article offers valuable insights and practical guidance for navigating the challenges ahead.

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse and important ecosystems on the planet, providing critical ecosystem services such as food, livelihoods, and coastal protection. However, coral reefs are facing unprecedented threats from a variety of sources, including natural disasters, economic downturns, and health crises. These shocks can have devastating impacts on coral reef-dependent communities, but there are ways to build resilience and promote recovery. In this article, we will explore some examples and references of recovery and resilience of coral reef-dependent communities in the face of major shocks.

Natural Disasters:

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and cyclones can have catastrophic effects on coral reefs and the communities that depend on them. In 2017, Hurricane Irma devastated the Florida Keys, damaging up to 90% of the coral reefs in some areas. However, researchers have found that some coral reefs in the area are showing signs of recovery, thanks to a combination of natural processes and restoration efforts. In the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, researchers have found that areas where coral reefs were restored prior to the hurricane had higher survival rates than areas that were not restored.

Other areas that have been affected by natural disasters include;

Great Barrier Reef, Australia – In 2011, Cyclone Yasi caused extensive damage to the Great Barrier Reef, particularly in the area around Cairns. The damage was so severe that it was visible from space. In response, the Australian government launched a Reef Recovery Plan that included measures to improve water quality and reduce pollution. The plan also included efforts to control the population of crown-of-thorns starfish, which can damage coral reefs.

Caribbean Coral Reefs Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused significant damage to Caribbean coral reefs
in 2017. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that more than 60% of coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands were damaged or destroyed by the storms. In response, organizations like the Nature Conservancy and the Coral Restoration Foundation launched initiatives to restore damaged coral reefs. These initiatives involved planting coral fragments and using underwater nurseries to help coral reefs recover.

Tohoku, Japan – In 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Tohoku, Japan, causing significant damage to nearby coral reefs. The local community responded by launching a project to rebuild the coral reefs using a technique called coral transplantation. The project involved collecting coral fragments from healthy reefs and transplanting them onto damaged reefs. Over time, the transplanted coral grew and helped to rebuild the damaged reef ecosystem.

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand – In 2004, a tsunami caused significant damage to coral reefs around the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. The local community responded by launching a coral reef restoration project that involved transplanting coral fragments and using artificial reef structures to help the damaged reefs recover. The project was successful, and the restored coral reefs have become a popular attraction for tourists visiting the area.

Economic Downturn:

Economic downturns can also have significant impacts on coral reef-dependent communities, particularly those that rely on tourism. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the global tourism industry, with many communities that depend on tourism struggling to make ends meet. However, there are examples of communities that have been able to adapt and build resilience in the face of economic shocks. In Indonesia, for example, the Misool Eco Resort has been able to weather the pandemic by shifting its focus to domestic tourists and offering alternative activities such as birdwatching and hiking.

Health Crises:

Health crises can also have significant impacts on coral reef-dependent communities, particularly those that rely on fisheries for food and livelihoods. In Fiji, for example, the outbreak of ciguatera poisoning in 2019 led to a decline in the consumption of reef fish, which are a staple food for many communities. However, researchers have found that communities that were able to diversify their diets and income sources were better able to cope with the crisis. For example, some communities shifted their focus to agriculture and livestock farming, while others started small businesses selling handicrafts and other products.

Building Resilience:

Building resilience is key to helping coral reef- dependent communities recover from major shocks. This can involve a variety of strategies, such as:

  • Restoring damaged coral reefs
  • Diversifying livelihoods and income sources
  • Promoting sustainable fishing practices
  • Strengthening community networks and socialcapital
  • Supporting education and capacity buildingFor example, in the Philippines, the Coral Triangle Initiative has been working to promote sustainable fisheries and protect coral reefs by strengthening community networks and providing education and training to fishermen. In Jamaica, the CARIBSAVE Partnership has been working to restore damaged coral reefs and promote sustainable tourism by building partnerships between local communities, businesses, and government agencies.

Coral reef-dependent communities can take a number of actions to increase their resilience and ability to cope with major shocks such as natural disasters, economic downturns, and health crises. Some of the key actions that these communities can take include:

Diversifying livelihoods and income sources: Communities that rely heavily on a single industry, such as tourism or fishing, are more vulnerable to economic shocks. By diversifying their livelihoods and income sources, these communities can spread their risk and reduce their vulnerability. This might involve exploring alternative industries, such as agriculture or ecotourism, or developing new skills and expertise.

Promoting sustainable fishing practices: Overfishing and destructive fishing practices can weaken coral reefs and make them more vulnerable to natural disasters and other shocks. By promoting sustainable fishing practices, such as using selective gear and avoiding overfishing, communities can help protect their local coral reefs and ensure a reliable source of food and income.

Strengthening community networks and social capital: Strong community networks and social capital can help

communities respond more effectively to shocks and recover more quickly. By working together and supporting each other, communities can share knowledge, resources, and expertise, and build a sense of collective resilience.

Supporting education and capacity building: Education and capacity building can help communities develop the skills and knowledge they need to adapt to changing circumstances and build resilience over the long term. This might involve providing training in new skills and technologies, or supporting education programs for children and young people.

Restoring damaged coral reefs: Restoring damaged coral reefs can help rebuild ecosystem resilience and provide important habitat for fish and other marine species. Coral reef restoration can involve a range of techniques, including coral transplantation, coral gardening, and artificial reef structures.

In summary, building resilience in the face of major shocks requires a holistic approach that addresses economic, social, and environmental factors. By taking these actions, coral reef- dependent communities can build a more sustainable future and reduce their vulnerability to future shocks.

Major shocks such as natural disasters, economic downturns, and health crises can have devastating impacts on coral reef- dependent communities. However, there are ways to build resilience and promote recovery. By restoring damaged coral reefs, diversifying livelihoods, promoting sustainable fishing practices, strengthening community networks, and supporting education and capacity building, providing alternative sustainable income streams and skills that encourage sustainable self sufficiency, we can help these communities weather the storms and build better futures.