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A Strategic Framework for Responding to Coral Bleaching Events in a Changing Climate

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The frequency and severity of mass coral bleaching events are predicted to increase as sea temperatures continue to warm under a global regime of rising ocean temperatures. Bleaching events can be disastrous for coral reef ecosystems and, given the number of other stressors to reefs that result from human activities, there is widespread concern about their future. This article provides a strategic framework from the Great Barrier Reef to prepare for and respond to mass bleaching events. The framework presented has two main inter-related components: an early warning system and assessment and monitoring. Both include the need to proactively and consistently communicate information on environmental conditions and the level of bleaching severity to senior decision-makers, stakeholders, and the public. Managers, being the most timely and credible source of information on bleaching events, can facilitate the implementation of strategies that can give reefs the best chance to recover from bleaching and to withstand future disturbances. The proposed framework is readily transferable to other coral reef regions, and can easily be adapted by managers to local financial, technical, and human resources.

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Response plan development was made possible through the support of the GBRMPA and key collaborators, such as Ray Berkelmans (AIMS), responsible, in part, for the structure of aspects of both the early warning and assessment and monitoring components. The authors are grateful to the network of volunteer observers that have supported BleachWatch for many years. This work was supported by grants to the first author from the University of Melbourne, Applied Environmental Decision Analysis CERF Hub (AEDA), and the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts, and to all authors by funding from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. The article contents are solely the opinions of the authors and do not constitute a statement of policy, decision, or position on behalf of NOAA or the U. S. Government.

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Correspondence to J. A. Maynard.

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Maynard, J.A., Johnson, J.E., Marshall, P.A. et al. A Strategic Framework for Responding to Coral Bleaching Events in a Changing Climate. Environmental Management 44, 1–11 (2009).

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