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Reef Resilience Focus Area

Healthy Florida coral reefs have a high percentage of live hard coral cover and a low percentage of algal cover, along with abundant and varied fish and invertebrate organisms. Coral reefs in Southeast Florida are facing a variety of local and global stressors, including (but not limited to) poor water quality, pollution, coastal development, climate change, and incompatible fishing and diving practices. Resilience is defined as the ability of a system to maintain key functions in the face of such stressors or pressures by either withstanding an impact or recovering from one when it happens (Holling, 1973 and Nystrom & Folke, 2001). 

Coral reef resilience is ultimately about coral reef health. For a reef community to be resilient, it must also be able to survive, reproduce, and compete for space and resources. Healthy reefs can better cope with and recover from major stress events like storms, mass bleaching events, and coral disease outbreaks. Indicators of a healthy reef include strong recruitment, high biodiversity, healthy herbivore biomass, low disease prevalence and low anthropogenic impacts. 

With multiple stressors, it is critical to make decisions based on sound science and engage all stakeholders early and often. All stressors need to be continually mitigated to effectively manage for long-term resilience in a changing climate. 


Staghorn coral being grown at our nursery site in the Florida Keys.The Reef Resilience Focus Area was officially designated by the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative Team in 2017 to address two main issues:

  1. Lack of information needed to manage for resilience.
  2. Public awareness of the importance of reef resilience.

Part of planning for resilience includes understanding the spatial variation of local and global stressors, identifying which actions may be effective against those stressors, and deciding where to implement priority actions to restore ecosystem services and maximize resilience potential.

Project Examples

Projects were identified to help promote greater understanding of the impacts of land-based sources of pollution, coral disease, climate change, bleaching, and other local and global threats to coral reefs and associated systems in Southeast Florida to help managers improve reef resilience through restoration and other priority management activities. As “resilience” is used more frequently in resource management, this concept also needs to be incorporated into all messaging and outreach to help raise awareness and understanding. See links to select products below, and view additional Reef Resilience project products.

  • Southeast Florida Coral Reef Resilience Assessment (2017).
  • SEAFAN and BleachWatch Citizen Science Programs.
  • Supporting the research and development of innovative resilience interventions (e.g., stress-hardening corals, assisted migration and gene flow, manipulation of symbiotic partnership).
  • Supporting the development of larval propagation techniques that incorporate resilience and post-settlement survival at key reef sites.
  • Develop a comprehensive incident response plan to better manage for future issues or outbreaks across Florida’s Coral Reef.
  • Continued support and engagement within the Florida Reef Resilience Program.Colpophyllia natans (boulder brain coral) colony displaying SCTLDSmall second generation rescue colonies of boulder brain corals, Colpophyllia natans, were outplanted with cement in sets of three to promote fusion and protected from predation with a small wooden stake at Acropora outplant sites in Miami, FL.

Desired Outcomes

  • Florida's Coral ReefIncrease public awareness and understanding of the meaning and importance of reef resilience. 
  • Implement place-based management activities that emphasize the protection of ecosystem structure, functioning and key processes. 
  • Maintain the ecosystem in a healthy, productive, and resilient condition so it can provide the ecosystem services humans want and need for future generations. 

For more information on the Reef Resilience Focus Area, please contact coordinator Taylor Tucker.

Holling, C.S. 1973. Resilience and Stability in Ecological Systems. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4: 1-23. 
Nystrom, M. and C. Folke. 2001. Spatial Resilience of Coral Reefs. Ecosystems 4: 406-417.

Last Modified:
August 14, 2023 - 3:00pm

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