Coral Reef Alliance Blog Tue, 15 Aug 2017 15:42:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Creating Win-wins for Reefs and People Mon, 14 Aug 2017 18:15:52 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share


It’s 2011 and Jenny Myton, CORAL’s Associate Program Director for the Mesoamerican Reef, is diving in the murky waters of Tela Bay, Honduras. Her husband rolls into the water after her and hears Jenny scream. He panics: is she OK? As he swims down to her he also starts to yell but they are both yelling in excitement because—astonishingly—the bottom is covered in live coral.

Coral cover has declined across the Caribbean, from near 80 percent in the 1970s to about 18 percent today. Somehow, the corals in Tela have defied that trend: live coral cover is an astounding 69 percent. Now six years later, I have a chance to see these amazing reefs for myself.

2017_BlogPost_MadhaviVisit_DivingReefsMy own journey to Tela starts with lunch in Miami. No, not that Miami—this is Miami, Honduras: a ragtag collection of wooden houses perched on stilts and crowded onto a narrow strip of sand between the Caribbean Sea and Laguna de Los Micos. This lagoon is an important nursery habitat for many species of reef fish. While Tela’s reefs are amazing for their live coral cover, they have a noticeable lack of fish. This has many worried that the entire local system sits on the edge of an ecological precipice. For these corals to continue to thrive, they need fish—especially herbivorous fish who help control algal growth. However, for the reef to have fish, it needs the lagoon.

This lagoon also provides essential food and income for thirteen communities that ring its shores. These communities and others exert enormous fishing pressure on the lagoon, which means very few fish actually survive to make it to the reef. CORAL has been working in Tela for the last four years to reduce overfishing in a way that doesn’t harm the lagoon’s human communities.

After my lunch in Miami, Jenny and I pile into a boat on the lagoon with some of Tela’s managers. We are on our way to visit one community—Marion—to see how people, the reef and lagoon interact.

My first impression of the lagoon is that it is huge: it takes us forty-five minutes to cross it. Mangroves crowd its shores, their barnacle-clad roots sticking up from water that is bright green and soupy looking. Where the edge is sandy, it is full of birds, including egrets, herons and one pale pink spoonbill. As we near the far shore, there’s a young boy waving at us from a sand bar. He stands next to a tree branch sporting a tattered piece of red fabric, which marks a channel entrance into the forest.2017_BlogPost_MadhaviVisit_ChannelMarker

The entrance is so shallow that the boat has to be pushed into the channel. We slide over sand past thick reeds that crowd into the boat from both sides. Once we are afloat again, we motor slowly into the forest. The view of mountains is eclipsed by large trees and a deep hot hush settles over us. We step from the boat onto a muddy bank and start our kilometer-long walk through the thick heat to Marion.

The first thing I notice when we reach the village is an abandoned house that’s half buried in sand. Marion sits directly under a levee next to a river. In 2014, the levee burst and the village was quickly inundated. Not everyone survived the flood and those who did lost everything. Marion is a poor community without running water or electricity. Yet, as we walk down the wide sandy track through the middle of the village and past the brightly painted school, the feeling is one of happiness and joy. Kids play in the middle of the town, people stop to talk to us. It’s peaceful here.

We turn left down a small track toward our final destination. We are greeted by decorative palm fronds and balloons. Balloons! Marion is celebrating the opening of a new cooperative store. A $2,300 micro-grant from CORAL has stocked the shelves with bags of flour, rice and beans, pens and Coca Cola. The store’s profit-sharing agreement provides members with an alternative form of income that helps the community endure the fishing closed season and the reductions in catch limits that will be required to rebuild the ecosystem.

2017_BlogPost_MadhaviVisit_MarionMainStreetThe cooperative’s members greet us with smiles and hugs, speeches and more than a few tears of gratitude. Such a small thing for us has made such a big difference for these people. They are still recovering from the flood, and opening this store gives them hope that their community will survive.

The next day, I head out to the reef. Rolling into the water, I experience the same thing Jenny did six years earlier. I too am yelling into my regulator in amazement: there is so much coral! Even now, two months after my visit to Tela, picturing those reefs fills me with hope. In Tela, corals have figured out how to adapt to and thrive in less than ideal conditions. By including this area in CORAL’s Mesoamerican Adaptive Reefscape —a large network of diverse and connected healthy reefs—baby corals from Tela can travel to other locations, taking with them the special genetic material that allowed their parents to thrive in murky waters.

Communities like Marion also give me hope. Earlier this year, Honduras’ first coastal managed-access fishery was passed into law in Tela Bay. This approach to fisheries management ensures that each of Tela’s communities has exclusive access to a portion of the catch. What they don’t fish today will be available to them tomorrow. In conjunction with alternative livelihoods—like the cooperative store in Marion—these communities are able to make decisions to not fish. By including communities in solutions that help save coral reefs, we create win-wins that give everyone hope for the future.


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Adaptive Reefscapes: A Blueprint for Coral Conservation Thu, 13 Jul 2017 12:18:00 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Studies have been done, published scientific articles have been peer-reviewed, and 97 percent of publishing climate scientists agree that human activity over the past century is causing global climate change. Currently, coral reefs are suffering great losses due to local threats, such as overfishing and unsustainable tourism, and global threats, such as rising ocean temperatures. As the executive director of a coral conservation nonprofit, I must ask myself how we can save coral reefs. Fortunately, we have an answer found with the corals themselves.

Today there is a growing scientific evidence that corals can adapt to environmental changes. In fact, corals have been adapting for hundreds of millions of years. We can see evidence of coral adaptation everywhere on coral reefs. For example, scientists are discovering corals that are thriving in harsh conditions, like the unusually warm waters in lagoons in American Samoa. These special corals are defying the assumption that corals are fragile and headed for extinction.

To save coral reefs, we must reduce local-level threats to reefs that help these special corals survive, grow and spread their special genes to future generations and withstand global threats – this is the process of coral adaptation. Seizing upon this revelation, CORAL is pioneering an innovate conservation blueprint called Adaptive Reefscapes – healthy networks of DIVERSE, CONNECTED and LARGE reefs.


Adaptive Reefscapes include many types of reefs, habitats, species and genes. We safeguard DIVERSITY to preserve options for an unpredictable future.


Rapid adaptation requires a CONNECTED network of healthy reefs such as Marine Protected Areas or Locally Managed Marine Areas to facilitate the spread of baby corals to different reefs and repopulate degraded reefs.


Small networks of reefs are vulnerable to a single disturbance such as a storm or a disease outbreak. Connecting LARGE networks of reefs protects reefscapes against losing everything all at once.

With our many partners, we are creating an Adaptive Reefscape along the Mesoamerican reef region, which spans the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Already, we have been able to identify key reefs where we can give corals a leg up by reducing coastal pollution and improving fisheries management. We are also developing a mathematical model to pinpoint additional reefs that we should protect to help corals adapt. Our goal is to launch similar Adaptive Reefscapes in three other key coral reef regions around the world. Creating successful reefscapes in these regions will provide a proven blueprint for global coral reef conservation.

Learn More about Adaptive Reefscapes:


Beat Blox to Save Coral Reefs Tue, 13 Jun 2017 17:59:32 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Justin Jesuele creating his Beat Blox

Justin Jesuele creating his Beat Blox

Beautiful, delicate and amazing are some of the words that the sixth grader Justin Jesuele uses to describe his experiences with coral reefs. Each year, students at Justin’s elementary school complete a year-long community service project with the goal of educating their peers on issues important to them and fundraising for an organization that aligns with their chosen cause. For his project, Justin chose to raise funds for the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and awareness about the current state of coral reefs.

At an annual Innovation Fair in the early spring, students present products they design, test and mass produce to raise funds for their chosen organization. Justin designed and manufactured a beat blox, an “elegant, cordless iPhone speaker that doesn’t need to be charged.” At the end of the fair, Justin sold all 29 speakers and raised a record-breaking $580.

Thanks to passionate donors like Justin, CORAL can work with communities to help save coral reefs for future generations. Please read through our Q&A with Justin to learn more about his project, his interests and why he cares about saving coral reefs. If you would like to purchase a beat blox of your own, please email

Justin’s Project

What was the goal of your project?

The goal of my school project was to raise awareness of what is happening to the coral reefs and to try to stop these delicate ecosystems from being destroyed. Coral reefs are so beautiful. I saw pretty amazing ones in the Philippines, and I know that they are in danger of dying all around the world because of dynamite fishing, human carelessness and pollution. Coral Reefs are very important because they protect the coastline from damaging storms and waves and they provide a habitat, shelter, and protection for thousands of marine organisms. By making people aware of the situation reefs face and getting support, I was also able to raise funds.

How did you build out your plan to reach your goal?

I thought of a new product that would appeal to my school community that I could manufacture by myself. I love music, so I decided to make an iPhone speaker. I made a few prototypes that failed, or that didn’t look that great. It was very frustrating coming up with the idea. Finally, I came up with a speaker that worked, was solid and not too expensive to make. When I was sure I had my finished product, I started manufacturing the speakers.

How did you promote your project to raise money?

I created flyers to advertise to the school community. I also presented the product at the school assembly. I tried to create some buzz by talking to students about it.

Why did you choose the Coral Reef Alliance to benefit from the sale of your beat blox?

When I was researching for an organization, I was overwhelmed with the number of choices. It was hard to tell which one was better. But Coral Reef Alliance had a good nonprofit rating, so I thought that was a good sign. It also sounds like they are doing good work around the world. I hope someday they help the coral reefs in the Philippines as well.

Justin Jesuele

Justin Jesuele

Fun Facts about Justin

What are three single words that describe your personality?

Innovative, adventurous and curious

To date, what’s been your favorite travel destination?

The islands of Palawan in the Philippines

What are some of your favorite hobbies?

Tinkering, rock climbing and fishing

What’s your favorite subject at school?

STEAM is my favorite subject in school because I get to innovate, create different projects and express myself and my ideas with physical creations.


Why Do Large Reefscapes Matter? Wed, 07 Jun 2017 12:28:00 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Threats to reefs collage

Threats to reefs: overgrown diatoms, sedimentation pollution, bleached coral

Coral reefs face many natural and human-caused threats. In March 2017, a British-owned cruise ship ran aground at Raj Ampat causing significant damage to roughly 1,600 square meters of coral reefs. Recent studies in West Maui have shown that land-based pollution is reducing water quality and covering corals in sediment. Extensive coverage about bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef reminds us that these delicate ecosystems are in crisis.

Fortunately, we have a solution that will help corals grow, reproduce and continue to build reefs. We can create Adaptive Reefscapes, which are networks of healthy reefs that is Diverse, Connected and Large. But what’s the right size for an Adaptive Reefscape? It turns out that there may be a Goldilocks solution that’s not too big and not too small.

Adaptive Reefscapes should be as big as possible to reduce problems caused by large disturbances; a small Reefscape might be at risk from one major hurricane or bleaching event, but a large Reefscape is more likely to include some reefs that are unharmed and can be sources of future recolonization. Large Reefscapes are also more likely to include lots of different kinds of reefs and corals. This diversity, which we described previously, acts as options for the future. Conversely, if a Reefscape is too big, baby corals will not be able to spread readily from one reef to the next, slowing down the potential for adaptation. By creating Adaptive Reefscapes that balance the need to be large and connected, we can find a Goldilocks solution that’s just right.

Mesoamerican Reef

Sample Adaptive Reefscape, Mesoamerican Reef


Protecting a Lagoon and its People Tue, 06 Jun 2017 09:19:00 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Imagine sitting in a small boat on the Laguna de Los Micos on the northern coast of Honduras, just a few miles west of Tela. You’re enjoying a sunny day in the lagoon surrounded by green mangroves, birds singing to one another and monkeys playing among the branches. In the distance, you see local fishermen making their livelihoods, casting lines and nets from offshore hoping for a catch.

Unfortunately, the lagoon is under constant threat from overfishing by outside communities who are not complying with the local fishing regulations. In turn, overfishing causes a decline in populations of the reef fish that depend on lagoons as nurseries for their young. Fortunately, the recently passed Ministerial Decree 108-2017 is designed to protect this vital water source that provides food and income for the surrounding 13 communities.

Since 2011, CORAL’s Honduras field team and our partners have worked collaboratively in Tela to encourage communication and cooperation among local communities, organizations and government entities. After several years of supporting and working hand in hand with these entities, the Tela Environmental and Protected Areas Interinstitutional Committee was formally recognized and tasked with bringing together all the key players to protect the natural coastal and marine resources of Tela Bay.

In 2015, after successfully creating a patrol program during the closed season, the Committee started discussing solutions to protect the lagoon from unsustainable fishing practices. After two years of meetings between the Interinstitutional Committee and affected communities, they agreed to new fishing regulations which were passed as a law by the Honduran Livestock and Agriculture Secretariat in April 2017. Through successful enforcement of the Ministerial Decree’s stricter fishing regulations and priority access for local fisherman, the idyllic scene I described earlier of the thriving lagoon providing livelihoods for the local community will become a near-term reality for Laguna de Los Micos.

Laguna de Los Micos and Community Members; Photos by CORAL Staff

Laguna de Los Micos and Community Members; Photos by CORAL Staff


Why Does Connectivity Matter? Tue, 16 May 2017 16:27:53 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Coral Spawning DivePlanet

Coral spawning, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

It’s a clear fall night in the Caribbean. High in the sky is a full moon and the water is perfectly warm. Once a year, the conclusion of a full moon and warmer water temperatures sets the mood for an incredible event – coral spawning.

On this night, coral polyps release bundles of eggs and sperm into the water forming billions of free-floating larvae. These baby corals are starting unique journeys, following ocean currents for a few days or weeks before settling down on new reefs. Some corals stay close to home, while others travel for many kilometers to distant reefs. If they are lucky, they’ll find a safe place to call home, and will flourish and produce offspring of their own.

This connection of reefs at the local scale is an important attribute in an Adaptive Reefscape, which are diverse, connected and large networks of healthy reefs designed to help corals adapt to climate change.

Baby corals are looking for a reef that has conditions that match their individual needs. With a changing climate and local human-threats, many reefs are getting warmer, more polluted and generally harder on baby corals. But some baby corals are special because they inherited an ability to thrive where others can’t. When reefs are well connected, these special corals can grow and spread from one reef to the next, building the reefs of tomorrow.

We can help corals by creating safe environments, such as Marine Protected Areas or Locally Managed Marine Areas, which provide the best conditions for baby corals such as clear water and healthy fish populations. By creating a network of healthy, connected and diverse reefs, we can ensure that baby corals can always find a good place to thrive, grow and reproduce through to the next generation.

Learn more about Adaptive Reefscapes at

Connected Reefscape Illustration, Mesoamerican Reef

Connected Reefscape Ilustration, Mesoamerican Reef


Small Community, Big Cleanup Tue, 11 Apr 2017 11:07:00 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

The small village of Tulamben is known as one of the best dive spots in Bali. The USS Liberty, a local shipwreck, can see upwards of 100 people per day during the high tourist season. Though this brings in much needed economic support for the local community, tourism creates stress on the local marine ecosystems.

As it is in many other places in Bali, waste management is a challenge in Tulamben, especially during the rainy season. Located at the base of Mount Agung in the North East of Bali, Tulamben is one of the driest places on the island. Rain here is a luxury, and when it comes, it washes the volcanic sediment and inorganic trash that has accumulated in the dry riverbeds into the ocean, burying the nearshore coral reefs.

Recently, the Tulamben Dive Guide Organization arranged a community cleanup to remove inorganic trash from the river mouth at the Drop Off. The cleanup was officially opened by the head of Tulamben Village, Nyoman Ardika, and had over 60 divers participate, including local divers from Tulamben, tourists, nongovernmental organizations, representatives of the East Buleleng community, and Nyoman Musna, a member of parliament from the Karangasem Regency. After the cleanup had ended, about 120 kilos of inorganic trash were from a depth of 17 to 20 meters underwater. This community effort will help reduce the stresses placed on the local marine life by human activities such as tourism.

Though it’s great to see a large turnout from the community for this cleanup, it shouldn’t be necessary to maintain this global treasure.

In honor of Earth Day, you can do your part: consider making a lifetime pledge to not litter and to help clean up trash when you see it. If you’re out for a walk at your local park, pick up that soda bottle and recycle it instead of leaving it for the next person. If you’re on vacation and snorkeling or diving on the local reef, keep your trash in a safe place and properly dispose of it when you return to the shore. Inorganic waste is a human problem and therefore can be solved by humans. Only together can we help create clean water for people, reefs and our home, planet Earth.

Tulamben Community Cleanup; Photo by CORAL Staff

Tulamben Community Cleanup; Photo by CORAL Staff


Why Does Coral Reef Diversity Matter? Thu, 06 Apr 2017 16:15:33 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and are home to 25 percent of all marine life though they occupy less than one percent of our oceans. There are sponges and corals of all shapes and sizes, hard and soft; tiny fishes like pygmy seahorses and big fishes like tiger sharks; there are anemones, nudibranchs and snails – the list goes on! Reefs are also diverse in types of habitats: fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls to name a few. Even a single species of coral is genetically diverse. But why does coral reef diversity matter in an era of global climate change?

We all know the facts: corals face an uncertain future due to local threats, such as pollution and overfishing, and global threats, such as climate change and ocean acidification. But without the reef-building corals, like staghorn or elkhorn, there is no reef and no habitat for the myriad forms of life that call reefs home. If we are to have reefs in the future, these reef-builders will need to adapt. Fortunately, scientific research shows us that corals can adapt to changing climates. At the Coral Reef Alliance, we are developing a blueprint based on cutting-edge science that promotes coral adaptation within diverse, connected and large networks of healthy reefs called Adaptive Reefscapes.

Our Adaptive Reefscape strategy draws ideas from evolutionary biology, economics and ecology. Evolutionary biology tells us that adaptation is more successful when there is a lot of diversity, like the diversity found within the many types of reefs, habitats, species and genes on coral reefs. In this case, more diversity means more evolutionary options for the future. Similarly, financial investors know that diversifying their portfolio can hedge bets against an uncertain future. In a diverse investment portfolio, some stocks behave independently from one another making the whole portfolio more stable. Researchers have discovered that diversity also affects ecological systems, which are less prone to boom and bust cycles when they are diverse. By combing these ideas in an Adaptive Reefscape that safeguards a diversity of habitats, species and genes, corals will be better able to adapt to global environmental changes and survive for centuries to come.

We are first applying our Adaptive Reefscape strategy to the Mesoamerican Reef, which spans the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In this region alone, there are over 60 species of coral. Two sites in this region are showing promising signs of adaptation. Corals in Tela Bay on the mainland of Honduras are thriving in murky waters. Off the coast of nearby Roatán, there are unusually lush stands of staghorn coral, which has declined almost everywhere else in the Caribbean. When corals surprise us by doing particularly well in unexpected places, it suggests that they may have already adapted to some of the threats that are facing coral reefs. Adaptive Reefscapes are designed to protect a diversity of reefs and corals so that special corals—like those in Tela and Roatán—can be the source of baby corals that will thrive in the future.

To learn more about Adaptive Reefscapes, visit or sign up for our newsletter.

Reefs in Tela and Roatan, Honduras; Photos by CORAL Staff

Reefs in Tela and Roatan, Honduras; Photos by CORAL Staff


Meet Antonella: Biologist, Diver and Fantasy-Geek Tue, 14 Feb 2017 10:30:55 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Dr Antonella Rivera, Program Manager

Dr Antonella Rivera, Program Manager

Recently, we welcomed Dr. Antonella Rivera to the Coral Reef Alliance family. Antonella is a Honduran biologist born in the city of Tegucigalpa and will work with local communities on fisheries reform and management efforts along the North Coast and Tela.

Antonella first became aware of the profound benefits coral reefs have on the sustainability of coastal communities while diving off the coast of Honduras in the Bay Islands. This new appreciation for reefs motivated her to earn a Ph.D. in marine socio-ecological systems from the University of Oviedo. Her multidisciplinary research background ranges from analyzing the management implications of larval dispersal to the use of perception research to assess the adaptive capacity of coastal communities. Through her studies and work experience with fishing communities in Europe and Latin America, she has become a firm believer in the need for bottom-up, holistic and adaptive conservation strategies. We are excited to have Antonella working in Honduras to protect the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, the Mesoamerican Reef.

Fun Facts about Antonella:

What’s your favorite coral reef destination and why?

My favorite coral reef destination is Guanaja in the Bay Islands (Honduras) because of the reef formations and underwater caves making you feel like you are part of the reef and not just an observer.

If you could be any reef animal, what would you be and why?

I would be a mantis shrimp; besides being cool looking, the mantis shrimp has sixteen types of color-receptive cones in their eyes, which allows them to see a variety of colors undetected by the human eye. I would love to see the reef through their eyes!

What was the last book you read?

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

What’s one word to describe you?


Why are you excited about working for CORAL?

I am thrilled to be working for CORAL because I admire the multidisciplinary and participative approach CORAL employs in coral reef management and conservation.


Who Should Pick the Winners of Climate Change? Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:45:17 +0000 FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

mpas_roatanmarineparkThe facts are clear: our world is getting warmer, and the warming is happening rapidly. For plants, animals and other organisms, shifts in climate have enormous consequences. Nowhere is this more true than on coral reefs, where a worldwide crisis is underway that has scientists and environmentalists asking a chilling question: how can we save coral reefs?

At the Coral Reef Alliance, we believe that the natural process of adaptation can help save coral reefs. A new article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, co-authored by CORAL staff and others, argues that adaptation will occur faster and have a better chance of succeeding if nature has many options with which to work. Options take the form of different species, individuals and genes and work like tickets in a lottery: most are not winners, but a few have just the right combinations to succeed.

This article outlines an innovative approach and practical advice about how we can facilitate the processes of adaptation through the creation of adaptation networks, which maximize the probability of nature finding the winners. Adaptation networks have three attributes. They are:

  1. Diverse: Each network contains a variety of species, individuals and genes (many lottery tickets);
  2. Connected: Corals within the network are connected to one another via the movement of coral larvae (winners can spread across a region); and
  3. Large: The network covers enough area that different corals throughout the network are not affected by the same conditions (reducing the risk that all lottery tickets are destroyed by a disaster).

Adaptation networks serve as experimental testing grounds where billions of evolutionary match/mismatch tests (lottery draws) allow nature to pick winning combinations of genes and species. As our climate continues to change, these winners are vital to creating the ecosystems of the future in which humans and other species can continue to thrive.

This approach to the creation of adaptation networks is a direct contrast to many contemporary conservation strategies that are based on forecasting which species will succeed under future environmental conditions. However, it is notoriously difficult to predict the effects of climate change on local environments accurately, and even harder to predict which organisms will succeed in these anticipated conditions. In the face of this uncertainty, it is unwise only to protect those species or areas that we think will survive in the oceans of the future. It is for this reason that adaptation networks could prove to be the best method to save coral reefs by protecting diversity and allowing the natural selection process to happen.

Read more about adaptation networks here.