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Resilient Reefs is bringing together local communities, reef managers and resilience experts across five World Heritage Reef sites to develop new solutions to combat the effects of climate change. 

All World Heritage Marine sites urgently require a comprehensive and sustained program of action aimed at building resilience to give them their best chance to survive in the long-term.

The Future of the World Heritage Convention for Marine Conservation, UNESCO World Heritage Marine Centre, September 2016

Reef Ecosystems

Coral reefs are critically important ecosystems, essential to the future of the planet;

  • Home to 25% of all marine life
  • Supporting the livelihoods of one billion people globally
  • Contributing an estimated $10 trillion in ecosystem services (tourism, fish habitats, food, recreation and storm protection)  

Around 75% of the planet’s coral reefs are under threat from local stresses and climate change.  The scale and urgency of the challenges need new approaches, right now.  

What we're doing

This bold, new approach places people at the centre. Resilient Reefs funds long term resilience planning, capacity building and implementation across five World Heritage reef sites. This includes funding for new Chief Resilience Officers and the development and implementation of a resilience strategies that address the threats facing both the reefs and the communities that depend on them.  

Local impact, global reach

Resilient Reefs is piloting this work with five World Heritage-listed coral reef sites. As these sites identify solutions to local challenges, we will share and scale these lessons to reef communities around the world via a global knowledge network. 

Five world heritage listed reef sites

What is resilience?

Reef resilience is the capacity of reef ecosystems and the individuals, businesses and communities that depend upon them to survive, adapt and recover from the stresses and shocks that they experience. By building resilience we are strengthening the ability of reef communities to prepare for and recover quickly from disturbances, adapt to changing circumstances and plan for an uncertain future.  

Project partners

The Resilient Reefs Initiative is a is a four-year, $US9 million collaboration between Great Barrier Reef Foundation, BHP Foundation, UNESCO World Heritage Marine Programme, The Nature Conservancy, 100 Resilient Cities and AECOM (as delivery partner). These global partners each bring unique expertise and support to the pilot sites, as well as help to share the lessons and learnings from the initiatives with reef communities around the word. 

Resilient Reefs is a collaboration between

Implementation partner

World Heritage Site Partners

Project news

Myriam Marcon (New Caledonia), Beverly Wade (Belize), Arvid Hogstrom (Ningaloo), David Wachenfeld (Great Barrier Reef), Yimnang Golbuu (Palau)


How did the project come about?

At a UNESCO World Heritage Marine Managers conference in 2016, coral reef managers from around the world spoke about being ill-equipped to tackle the challenges facing their reefs. Of the 46 sites represented at that meeting, only the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park had a comprehensive strategic plan in place to boost reef resilience in the face of climate change and local stresses - a plan that expired in 2017. In response, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation had the idea to create a world-first network of global marine managers. The GBRF worked to bring this vision to life and secured support to fund the initiative from the BHP Foundation’s Environmental Resilience Global Signature Program.

Why were these 5 sites selected?

These sites were selected for several reasons, including:

  • local leadership is engaged and ready to take action;
  • they are among the most ecologically significant and exceptionally biodiverse coral reefs on the planet;
  • World Heritage sites can be especially influential proof points for other sites around the world; and
  • their diversity in size, scale, and management will enrich the field with examples of how to deliver solutions in many different contexts.

In the future, the ambition is to expand the program to work with more sites around the world. Now the focus is on developing the program and learnings with these five pilot sites.

How is the Resilient Reefs Initiative different from other programs?

The Resilient Reefs Initiative is taking a new and holistic approach to enabling coral reef communities to build their resilience to climate change. 

The health of coral reef ecosystems affects the livelihoods and cultural heritage of the surrounding communities. Resilient Reefs partners with the sites to understand the resilience of their coral reefs and the communities that depend on them, developing solutions that strengthen both the community and the reef. 

To do this, the Resilient Reefs Initiative is leveraging the learnings and expertise from global resilience-building programs from other domains, including those from the world’s largest proven resilience-building model – 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation – and coupling them with the brightest minds in coral reef resilience. This work is explicitly about engaging new voices and perspectives and building long term local capacity. If successful, the Resilient Reefs Initiative will develop the first fully integrated and transferable model for embedding resilience-based management for coral reefs and the communities they support.

Climate change is the biggest threat to coral reefs globally, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting that coral reefs would decline by 70-90% with global warming of 1.5 degrees. The impact of climate change on coral reefs around the world means that the window to act is narrowing, so the timing and delivery of this project is critical to their survival, in addition to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. With ‘business as usual’ approaches falling short of creating the impact needed to sustain coral reefs globally, a collaboration of partners has developed a new way of thinking to respond to the scale and severity of the challenge posed by climate change to coral reefs. 

How does the work of the 100 Resilient Cities project inform this project?

Site-specific coral reef expertise will be combined with learnings from the proven resilience-building model of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative (100RC). Specifically, Resilient Reefs will adopt the successful concept of creating Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) from 100RC, which pioneered the first CROs in cities around the world. The Resilient Reefs CROs will be key catalysts for change. They will serve as 'point person' for each reef manager's comprehensive efforts on resilience, working across the reef system locally (including extensive engagement with external stakeholders), as well as being an ambassador globally. While the CROs' salaries will be funded by the Resilient Reefs Initiative, the CROs will be based in the local authorities at each site and will help coordinate local resilience planning and action. This is one of the ways the initiative seeks to embed resilience-based management, ensuring local authorities have the capacity to do this work, and that outcomes are enduring.