Environmental Management

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 1–13 | Cite as

A Framework for Responding to Coral Disease Outbreaks that Facilitates Adaptive Management

  • Roger BeedenEmail author
  • Jeffrey A. Maynard
  • Paul A. Marshall
  • Scott F. Heron
  • Bette L. Willis


Predicted increases in coral disease outbreaks associated with climate change have implications for coral reef ecosystems and the people and industries that depend on them. It is critical that coral reef managers understand these implications and have the ability to assess and reduce risk, detect and contain outbreaks, and monitor and minimise impacts. Here, we present a coral disease response framework that has four core components: (1) an early warning system, (2) a tiered impact assessment program, (3) scaled management actions and (4) a communication plan. The early warning system combines predictive tools that monitor the risk of outbreaks of temperature-dependent coral diseases with in situ observations provided by a network of observers who regularly report on coral health and reef state. Verified reports of an increase in disease prevalence trigger a tiered response of more detailed impact assessment, targeted research and/or management actions. The response is scaled to the risk posed by the outbreak, which is a function of the severity and spatial extent of the impacts. We review potential management actions to mitigate coral disease impacts and facilitate recovery, considering emerging strategies unique to coral disease and more established strategies to support reef resilience. We also describe approaches to communicating about coral disease outbreaks that will address common misperceptions and raise awareness of the coral disease threat. By adopting this framework, managers and researchers can establish a community of practice and can develop response plans for the management of coral disease outbreaks based on local needs. The collaborations between managers and researchers we suggest will enable adaptive management of disease impacts following evaluating the cost-effectiveness of emerging response actions and incrementally improving our understanding of outbreak causation.


Climate change Coral reefs Coral disease Management actions Outbreaks Response framework 



This study was made possible by funding and logistical support provided by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Some of the content and presentation format resulted from insightful discussions and/or other collaborative efforts with L. Raymundo, D. Harvell, G. Aeby, J. Johnson, M. Turner, D. Abrego, H. Schuttenberg, E. Weil, K. Ritchie, M. Eakin, C. Spillman and C. Woodley. Figures and tables were developed in collaboration with D. Tracey. This is a contribution by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. The manuscript contents are solely the opinions of the authors and do not constitute a statement of policy, decision, or position on behalf of NOAA or GBRMPA or the U.S. or Australian Governments.


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Copyright information

© Her Majesty the Queen in Rights of Australia 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roger Beeden
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jeffrey A. Maynard
    • 3
  • Paul A. Marshall
    • 1
  • Scott F. Heron
    • 4
    • 5
  • Bette L. Willis
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Climate Change Group, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park AuthorityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.School of BusinessJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.USR 3278 CNRS-EPHE, CRIOBEMooreaPolynesie Francaise
  4. 4.NOAA Coral Reef WatchTownsvilleAustralia
  5. 5.School of Engineering and Physical SciencesJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia
  6. 6.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia
  7. 7.School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook University of North QueenslandTownsvilleAustralia

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