Resilient Reefs

Partnering with Reef communities to respond to climate change and local threats.

Inaugural accelerator workshop, Great Barrier Reef

"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.
Our Global Impact Program: Resilient Reefs Initiative

#Our Global Impact Program: Resilient Reefs Initiative

The Foundation has pioneered this global partnership to support World Heritage Reefs, and the communities that depend on them, to adapt to climate change and a combination of local threats.

Coral Reefs are critically important to the survival of the planet.

Not only do they support 25% of all marine life, but nearly one billion people across the globe—in more than 100 countries—depend on Reefs for food, wellbeing, and livelihoods. 

They protect vulnerable coastlines from erosion and storms, contributing an estimated $10 trillion in ecosystem services. 

And thousands of First Nations groups hold deep cultural connections to Reefs – with traditions and knowledge spanning tens of thousands of years.

But right now, 75% of the planet’s Reefs are under threat.

This includes the 29 Reef sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List – identified as holding extraordinary importance and universal value due to their exceptional marine biodiversity, unique ecosystems, and incomparable natural beauty.

Despite the best efforts of Reef managers around the world, business-as-usual approaches to Reef management are no longer enough. The impacts of climate change mean that the scale and urgency of the challenges need new approaches, right now.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation is leading the charge by establishing the Resilient Reefs Initiative, a bold new partnership with Reef managers and Reef communities to jointly adapt in the face of growing uncertainty.

The Resilient Reefs Initiative is just getting started. But with your help, this ground-breaking initiative could be the game changer our Reefs and their communities so desperately need.

Read More

“Resilient Reefs is a bold, pragmatic approach to managing humanity’s most important Reef ecosystems in the face of a global climate crisis. Importantly, it is also a hopeful lifeline that gives people agency over their future, and the ability to adapt to a changing climate.”

Dr Fanny Douvere, Coordinator of the UNESCO Work Heritage Marine Programme
What is Reef resilience?

#What is Reef 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 from disturbances, adapt to changing circumstances and plan for an uncertain future.​

The project

#The project

Pioneered by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the Resilient Reefs Initiative is a global partnership bringing together local communities, Reef managers, and resilience experts to develop new solutions for adapting to the effects of climate change and local threats.

A world first, Resilient Reefs directly responds to the call to action from those charged with managing the world’s most treasured Reefs – recognising that communities that depend on these Reefs are also threatened, and need to be part of the solution. While the interdependency of Reefs and their communities has long been recognised, Resilient Reefs is the first global program to deliver integrated Reef and community resilience planning, at scale.

Resilient Reefs draws on the successful 100 Resilient Cities initiative (a US$163 million project of the Rockefeller Foundation), which created deep structural change to bolster communities and infrastructure against systemic shocks and stresses of climate change in the urban environment. The Resilient Reefs Initiative brings the lessons from that ground-breaking resilience-building program into the management agencies for Reefs and coastal communities.

"From the perspective of a science reporter, the most innovative and key element about this project is that it does not simply tinker with small changes at the edge of profound ecosystem change. Unlike other projects, this one can, I believe, truly make a difference to communities and their marine environment, and that is because it is about bravely facing up to the reality of the enormous changes to our Reefs over the coming decades. Scientists have described in detail what climate change means for Reefs, and while many projects continue their conservation practice as usual, this one is different. This one compels all parties to accept the reality of global warming, and plan the best future for all with this in mind. This honest strategy gives communities strength, enabling them to have agency over their situation and to prepare for their future."

Gaia Vince, award-winning science journalist, author, broadcaster and speaker
Resilient Reefs has 4 key pathways to create deep, lasting change

#Resilient Reefs has 4 key pathways to create deep, lasting change

Build capacity of Reef managers to be agents of change and institutionalise resilience planning

Empower and equip local communities to take action and create sustainable jobs and income

Implement solutions that have a significant impact on Reefs and Reef communities

Foster a global network of Reef resilience leaders and inspiring others to build Reef resilience

#Global Expertise: Local Support

Never before has a consortium of resilience, climate change, and Reef experts and organisations come together in such a way as the Resilient Reefs Initiative.

A core component of the Initiative is its Knowledge Network – a taskforce of experts formed to help unlock the capacity of the Initiative’s Site Partners, support the development of integrated solutions to each site’s challenges, and share, educate, and scale knowledge beyond the pilot sites to Reef managers globally.

UNESCO World Heritage Marine Programme

Includes 50 flagship marine protected areas of Outstanding Universal Value that act as beacons of hope in a changing ocean. The Programme connects Reef managers from the 50 marine protected areas to share conservation solutions and accelerate successful results. The Programme also monitors and prepares evaluations of how countries protect their sites, assesses climate change impacts and invests in building resilience at the site level, and explores how the 1972 World Heritage Convention could protect places of Outstanding Universal Value beyond national jurisdiction.

The Nature Conservancy’s Reef Resilience Network

For more than 15 years, the Reef Resilience Network has served as a global leader in building the capacity of marine managers to effectively manage, protect, and restore coral reefs and reef fisheries around the world. To achieve this, we connect reef managers and practitioners with peers, experts, and the latest science and strategies, and provide online and hands-on training and implementation support. The Network is a partnership led by The Nature Conservancy that is comprised of more than 2,000 members, and supported by dozens of partners and TNC staff, as well as 100s of global experts in coral reefs, fisheries, climate change, and communication who serve as trainers, advisors, and content reviewers.

Columbia University’s Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes (CRCL)

CRCL uses planning and design to help communities and ecosystems adapt to the pressures of urbanization, inequality, and climate uncertainty. CRCL works with public, nonprofit, and academic partners to deliver practical and forward-thinking technical assistance that advances project implementation through interdisciplinary research, visualization of risk, project design scenarios, and facilitated convenings. CRCL integrates resilience thinking into design education and academic programming, bringing real-world challenges into the classroom to train future design leaders.

Resilient Cities Catalyst

RCC is a nonprofit whose work is anchored in knowledge gained in the development of the urban resilience movement, bringing together a diverse set of skills across government, civil society and the private sector. RCC believes that resilience thinking combined with courageous leadership and radical collaboration will make cities stronger, more equitable and ultimately more resilient for current and future generations.


A global network of experts working with clients, communities and colleagues to develop and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most complex challenges. AECOM’s role as program delivery partner is being led out of the Australian sustainability and resilience practice, with support from their global team. The sustainability and resilience practice works to develop, implement and facilitate ideas and tools to build community and ecosystem resilience. AECOM aims to translate the best science, design and analysis into practically achievable strategies. AECOM is recognised for meeting communities and organisations where they are at, and working with them to co-create solutions, prioritise action and monitor progress through an extensive understanding of assets, risks and vulnerabilities. AECOM worked closely with 100 Resilient Cities, working with over 35 cities globally. AECOM has completed hundreds of climate adaptation and resilience projects at local, regional, state, national and international scales, looking at climate hazards, risk, vulnerability and resilience. In addition to their partnership with 100RC, AECOM’s approach is informed by their work with major international programs such as the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), and R!SE, founded by the UNISDR and PwC.

Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program

The Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) brings together Australia’s leading experts to create an innovative suite of safe, acceptable interventions to help the Great Barrier Reef resist, adapt to, and recover from the impacts of climate change.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s Traditional Owner Advisory Group

The purpose of the Traditional Owner Advisory Group is to offer strategic advice to guide the co-design and co-delivery of activities under the Reef Trust Partnership.

BHP Foundation

The BHP Foundation works to address some of the most critical global sustainable development challenges facing our generation. By working in partnership with others the BHP Foundation seeks to raise the bar, find new solutions and set new standards for the future. The BHP Foundation is a charitable foundation funded by BHP, a leading global resources company, and through the Foundation’s programs they address challenges that are directly relevant to the resources sector.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

GBRMPA was established in 1975 to manage Australia’s – and the world’s – natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Join our community

#Join our community

Get the latest Reef updates, direct to your inbox.

#Resilient Reefs Board

The Resilient Reefs Project Board is an independent skills-based board, chaired by a Great Barrier Reef Foundation Board member.

The Board includes 8 world-leading experts across relevant fields such as resilience-based management, sustainable investment, conservation and more, all driven by finding solutions to the world's greatest challenges.

Caleb McClennen

Caleb McClennen

Vice President for Conservation Science and Solutions

Amanda McCluskey

Amanda McCluskey

Stewart Investors, Investor and Co-Head of Sustainable Funds

Samuel Carter

Samuel Carter

Resilient Cities Catalyst, Founding Principal

Dr Stephen Box

Dr Stephen Box

RARE – Managing Director of Fish Forever

Rili Djohani

Rili Djohani

Coral Triangle Center, Executive Director

Local impact: Global reach

#Local impact: Global reach

Five World Heritage Reefs are involved in the Initiative

Each of these diverse and treasured natural wonders are under threat from a combination of both commonly-shared, and site-specific challenges.  

Resilient Reefs partners with the Reef management organisations of these sites and provides a wide range of resources, connections, and technical expertise, all focused on building concrete solutions. 

These solutions will look different site to site but may include, for example, efforts to:

· diversify local economies to improve community well-being and reduce pressure on the Reef

· create integrated disaster plans to help both the Reef and community endure climate events such as cyclones and coral bleaching

· develop blue carbon initiatives to protect natural ecosystems and generate new financial support for conservation

· improved land and wastewater management to limit pollution and reduce negative impacts on the reef and communities

The Resilient Reefs Initiative has set aside AUD$5 million in seed funding to support on ground implementation.

As pilot sites implement innovative solutions, Resilient Reefs helps share and scale these lessons to Reef communities around the world.   

Through partnering with the Reef management organisations for each site, all five World Heritage listed sites are expected to benefit from the innovations, learnings, and outcomes of the Resilient Reefs program. The Initiative’s delivery model and partnership approach may differ across sites to best meet the unique needs and circumstances of each location.

Rock Islands of Palau

#Rock Islands of Palau

Palau is situated in the western Pacific Ocean and is a place of spectacular natural beauty and rich culture.


· 300 volcanic islands, dotted throughout the turquoise blue waters

· 2012: inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list meeting five of the ten criteria.

· 100,200 ha with a diversity of habitats owning to the structural complexity of the site - marine and freshwater lakes coupled with lagoons, barrier and fringing reefs, channels, tunnels, caves, arches, and coves can all be found with close proximity to each other.

· Global leader: home to the world’s largest shark sanctuary, and 80% of its coastal waters are under some sort of protection. Tourists undertake a mandatory pledge to protect the environment through a signature on a stamp in their passports as they enter the country.


· Climate change: predicted intensification of tropical cyclones and rising sea levels, leading to tidal inundation

· Water quality: increased pressure from run-off is impacting nearshore ecosystems

· Reliance on tourism: poses a significant threat to the national economy, ecosystem and people.

Lagoons of New Calendonia

#Lagoons of New Calendonia

Situated in the South Pacific, comprised of multiple islands including the main island Grande Terre, New Caledonia is rich in natural and cultural heritage.


· 1,574,300 ha - celebrated for diversity of habitats and reef structures

· 28 – Kanak languages

· Pristine - amongst the most pristine coral reefs in the world

· 1,700 – species of reef fish

· High proportion - of large fish including sharks and rays

· 2008 – inscribed as a World Heritage site for the Outstanding Universal Values of “exceptional natural beauty” “on-going natural processes” and “significant biological diversity”


· 13 – local management committees within a complex governance structure along a coastline which spans six management zones and 11 management plans, stretching 3,400km2

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

#Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

Measuring more than 300 km long, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is part of the bigger Mesoamerican Barrier Reef that stretches from Mexico to Honduras, making it the second largest coral reef system in the world, and the largest in the Northern Hemisphere.

· Gained UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1996

· Scientists have catalogued more than 70 species of hard coral, 30 species of soft coral, hundreds of invertebrates, and more than 500 species of fish in this special habitat.

· < 10,000 years old: The reef first began when the last Ice Age came to an end with rising sea waters that flooded the region. As the ancestors of the Maya first crossed the Bering Strait to enter the Americas, the reef was beginning to grow, making it an abundant source of fish and seafood for the emerging Mayan Empire.

· US$395-$553 million per year: fishing, tourism and shoreline protection value of the coral reefs and mangroves

· Distinct communities of Maya people, each speaking a different dialect of the ancient Mayan language. The majority of Maya people are farmers and fishers and still live relatively traditional lifestyles.

· 100s: Dotted with hundreds of colossal temples, pyramids, and palaces that were built by the Maya people

Image: Jad Davenport.

Ningaloo Coast, Australia

#Ningaloo Coast, Australia

Hugging the western edge of the Australian mainland, where the arid outback meets the Indian ocean, Ningaloo Reef is one of the longest fringing coral reefs in the world.

Bordered by white beaches and the ancient Cape Range, it is an iconic attraction for domestic and international travelers visiting Western Australia, with a thriving tourism industry based around the Reef and coastline.

· 260 km - one of the longest fringing coral reefs in the world

· 10’s of 1000’s of years - the Baiyungu, Thalanyji and Yinikurtura people have lived in the region of the Nyinggulu Coast (Ningaloo)

· Marine megafauna - Significant seasonal aggregations of megafauna including whale sharks, humpback whales, manta rays, and three species of sea turtles

· Transitional zone – where temperate and tropical climates meet, creating high biodiversity of marine life

· Protected – relatively limited coastal development, low rainfall, little input from rivers and a high level of legislative and regulatory protection

· June 2011 – inscribed as a World Heritage site for the Outstanding Universal Values of “exceptional natural beauty” and “significant biological diversity”


The following resilience challenges have been identified in conjunction with the local community and stakeholders:

· The frequency and severity of extreme events is increasing: higher risk of marine heatwaves, cyclones, flooding, storm surge, heatwaves, bushfire, with impacts on ecosystem and the community.

· The climate is changing: sea levels are rising, shifts in ocean current and upwellings, ocean acidification, increasing water scarcity, air temperatures increasing.

· The number of visitors on the Reef is increasing. 

· Communities are highly reliant on tourism and the Reef: Lack of livelihood diversity; susceptible to external influences (pandemics, marketing priorities, increase in commodity prices)

· Existing threats from oil + gas and pressure for further industrialisation and coastal development. 

Find out more about Resilient Reefs in Ningaloo at:

Great Barrier Reef

#Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is an irreplaceable global icon. It is the largest living structure on Earth, with rich corals spanning an area larger than New Zealand and visible from space.

Given parallel and significant investment in the Great Barrier Reef (for example, the $443 million Reef Trust Partnership and the Reef 2050 Plan), both the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Resilient Reefs team have worked together to restructure the Authority’s partnership in Resilient Reefs.

Both parties have agreed that GBRMPA won’t hire a Chief Resilience Officer or access the Initiative's $5 million seed funding, but will continue to partner on and play a crucial role in the Initiative, supporting two-way learning across sites and partners.

This as a fantastic opportunity to leverage the vast expertise and global relationships of GBRMPA for the Initiative and its partners, while also ensuring GBRMPA can continue to learn from and partner with the Initiative’s diverse network of World Heritage Sites and global partners.

Importantly, the benefit to the Great Barrier Reef remains - as a key partner in the Initiative, GBRMPA can incorporate Resilient Reefs methodologies, innovations and learnings from the pilot program into their activities (such as the Great Barrier Reef Resilience Blueprint).

Reef Trust Partnership

#Site Partners

Resilient Reefs partners with the local Reef management organisations tasked with managing the Initiative’s pilot Reef sites.

#Project partners

UNESCO World Heritage Centre
The Nature Conservancy Reef Resilience Network
The Nature Conservancy
Columbia University Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes
Resilient Cities Catalyst
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
BHP Foundation


Joel Johnsson

Faces of the Reef ·

Joel Johnsson

Pierre Bouvais

Faces of the Reef ·

Pierre Bouvais

Initiated by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Resilient Reefs is a collaboration with UNESCO World Heritage Marine Programme, The Nature Conservancy’s Reef Resilience Network, Columbia University’s Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes, Resilient Cities Catalyst and AECOM. The program is enabled by the BHP Foundation. 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 Initiative with Reef communities around the world.