Building Resilience: Communicating Bleaching Incidents to Stakeholders

MPA News

This "Building Resilience" feature is contributed by the Reef Resilience program of The Nature Conservancy (www.reefresilience.org). The program provides guidance on building resilience to climate change into MPA design.

By Rebecca Cerroni, Reef Resilience Project Manager, The Nature Conservancy

When corals bleach or suffer other effects of climate change, managers need to be able to communicate these incidents to their constituents, including dive operators, fishers, tourists, and government agencies.

Whom should you contact first? Your immediate audience should be those who are dependent on the reef, such as dive operators. They will be the first to see the bleaching firsthand and will want to know what is happening. They may also want to help with first-response monitoring efforts. If you already have a close relationship with these groups, you can reach out to them directly via e-mail or phone.

After that, it is time to notify the media. Send out a press release describing the bleaching event and what the incident means for your MPA's coral reefs. Avoid gloomy messages like "The reefs are bleaching and they will die," which make the public feel helpless. You want the public to care and to take appropriate action. Bleaching means the reefs are in trouble (i.e., a bleached reef's "immune system" has been compromised), and there are things the public can do to help the reef be healthier in general - such as reducing land-based pollution or supporting sustainable levels of tourism and fishing. Ultimately, what you communicate should be tailored to your audience, to its level of engagement, and to its knowledge of climate change's causes and effects.

Here are four tips for developing a climate change/bleaching communications response:

  1. Regularly monitor coral bleaching alerts at http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/index.html. This is the best resource for predictions of bleaching events.

  2. If you rely on a volunteer network for monitoring and first response, have a system in place to communicate with them when a bleaching event is predicted.

  3. If the best way of reaching fishermen or tourism operators is by radio, develop radio messages ahead of time.

  4. Work with partners to develop a comprehensive communications plan before bleaching season. Check out templates and case studies at www.reefresilience.org.