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Country: Global

GEF Focal Area: International Waters, OP 9, Multiple Focal Area

Project Title: Investigations of the Impacts of Localized Stress and Compounding Effects of Climate Change on the Sustainability of Coral Reef Ecosystems, and the Implications for Management

Requesting Agency: World Bank

Executing Agencies: ICLARM

Total Project Cost: 14 M – Phase I
Financing Plan (tentative): US$ 8.0M - GEF

The balance to be raised by partnering institutions including the following:

The Great Barrier Reef Research Foundation

The University of Queensland, Australia

The Caribbean Coral Reef Research Institute

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

The International Coral Reef Action Network

CGIAR/The World Fish Center (ICLARM)

Project Duration: 5 years - Phase I
Preparation Costs: US$718 K

PDF Block B Funds Requested: US$350 K

PDF Co-Funding:

US$38 K The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

US$210 K The Caribbean Coral Reef Research Institute

US$30 K The University of Queensland, Australia

US$ 20K The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

US$10 K Australian Institute of Marine Science

US$25 K ICLARM (in kind)

Block A Grant Awarded: Yes (US$25 K)

1. Project Objectives

This project proposes to conduct specific, targeted research to fill critically important information gaps in the fundamental understanding of coral reef ecosystems so that management and policy interventions can be strengthened globally. The purpose of the targeted research is to test specific hypotheses related to major human and natural factors threatening coral reef sustainability and to build capacity to manage these ecosystems to enhance reef resilience and recovery. The project has five major objectives:

  1. target the most important gaps in applied scientific understanding related to the sustainability of coral reefs: develop and refine rigorous protocols to examine specific factors related to the resilience and vulnerability of coral reef ecosystems and differentiate climate-related factors from anthropogenic ones across appropriate scales in space and time

  2. establish an effective, scientific framework and knowledge base for the express purpose of synthesizing and comparing findings between sites across national boundaries, and at regional and global levels

  3. disseminate research results broadly for use by policy-makers, the scientific and marine resources management community, reef-based industry (e.g., tourism and fisheries), and the general public,

  4. apply findings to management interventions and policy formulation at national and local levels; integrate relevant findings into strategic frameworks for sustainable development, e.g., National Development Plans, Country Assistance Strategies, PRSPs, (Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers), and sectoral strategies, where relevant ;

  5. further the capacity and involvement of researchers within developing countries to participate fully in the global, targeted research framework;

  6. in line with the research results, assist the Global Environment Facility and other stakeholders to prioritize resources for the conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs.

The primary output of this proposed PDF is to develop a full project brief that will describe:

  • The formation, convening and activities of each of six specialized international scientific working groups, organized around specific coral reef themes determined to be most important in addressing gaps in our understanding of coral reef sustainability, based on the results of the consultations held during the Block A period;

  • The formation of a Synthesis Panel composed of chairs from each of the working groups and other senior scientists with experience in interdisciplinary environmental investigations to oversee the targeted research program and synthesize research findings;

  • A detailed and coordinated plan for a series of applied investigations that will form the basis of the targeted research program;

  • Details of experimental designs and standard operating procedures for each of the working groups and institutional arrangements to phase these in across a global network of study sites;

  • Pilot studies carried out to demonstrate hypothesis testing and coordination of investigations in the field, associated with one or more working groups

  • Methods and plans to disseminate relevant findings and mainstream into GEF-financed operations and those of other partners in the Targeted Research

2. Background

By the year 2008, the world population will exceed 6 billion people, with 75% living within sixty kilometers of the coast. The increase in demographics near coastal and marine resources has far-reaching implications concerning impacts to marine ecosystems (e.g. sedimentation and pollution) and their productivity, as well as materials being extracted from them (e.g. overfishing and destructive fishing). Moreover, the impacts associated with climate change also have potentially serious consequences for the coastal zone and its resources.
The importance of coral reef ecosystems to global commons, tropical developing nations, the environmental services they provide, and their relevance to sustainable development and poverty alleviation, has been well established in the scientific and conservation literature (e.g. see Spalding et al, 2001). Over 80 developing countries rely on coral reefs as key natural resources and economic assets.
One of the most significant challenges facing nations with coral reefs is to clearly understand the impacts from changes in climate versus local human activities, and to determine the range and feasibility of options that would be effective in protecting goods and services generated by coral reefs. The World Bank, with co-financing from GEF and other partners, has current investments and commitments of nearly $250 million in coral reef projects (Table 1). These investments are potentially at risk in light of the recent coral reef bleaching events and other global change phenomena that threaten to undermine the success of management efforts which do not take into account Climate Change and the cumulative impacts of human disturbance.
Over the past 30 years, the volume and diversity of information about coral reefs has steadily increased, and efforts are underway to enhance management based upon the knowledge already gained (for example, see the section on ICRAN below). However, significant gaps in knowledge of the fundamental structure and function of coral reef ecosystems remain, and “our understanding of even the basic physical parameters of global change relevant to reefs is inadequate,”(Knowlton 2001). There is general agreement that management will be limited without advancement in scientific understanding of the basis for ecosystem resilience or collapse in the face of cumulative stress (Scheffer et al 2001; Knowlton 2001, Buddemeier and Smith 1999). Coordinated, scientific frameworks are needed to provide timely and reliable information in support of management and the application of appropriate interventions. This has already been recognized by the GEF in the area of climate change, through its support of the Assessments of Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in Coordination with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The year 1998 was documented as the warmest in 600 years of recorded history, and high sea surface water temperatures (SST) were exacerbated by the strongest El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event ever recorded. Elevated SSTs led to an unprecedented bleaching of coral reefs, a phenomenon in which coral hosts reject their symbiotic algae, leaving the animals and their communities with a ghostly-white, bleached appearance. In some cases the bleaching led to mortality on a massive spatial scale, particularly in the Indian Ocean region. Up until this single event, coastal development, pollution and excessive resource extraction were the most significant factors threatening these globally important marine ecosystems. Such factors continue to chronically affect coral reefs. Warming is once again being observed over the tropical Pacific and predictions of a new El Nino developing by early spring are already circulating (NOAA, 2002). However, the impacts of climate-related events, in tandem with human stress, are poorly understood.
Within the last 10 years, estimates of the decline of coral reefs have ranged between 10% and 30%, with forecasts claiming an additional 25% decline possible by 2025 (Wilkinson, 2000). However, it is urgent that future investigations go beyond simply documenting the decline of coral reefs, and address critical information gaps to inform policies and the kinds of management interventions which must be adopted to reverse this trend and promote conservation of reefs over time.
Table 1. ActiveWorld Bank projects involving coral reef resources from fiscal years 1993-2004, (including projects in the pipeline).

Project / Program/ Activity

World Bank Region

Fiscal Year of Project Start-up

Project Status

Project Amount (USD millions)

Egypt, Private Sector Tourism and Environmental Management Project





OECS Countries (Caribbean) Ship Waste Management

Latin America/






OECS Countries (Caribbean) Waste Management (Coastal)





Gulf of Aqaba Environmental Action Plan





Madagascar, Second Environment Program Support Project





Mozambique – Marine and Coastal Biodiversity Management Project





Indonesia - Coral Reef Monitoring and Rehabilitation Program (COREMAP)





Indonesia: COREMAP, Phase II





Indian Ocean Commission - Coral Reef Monitoring GEF Medium-Sized Project





World Bank/Netherlands Partnership - Western Indian Ocean Bleaching: CORDIO (Regional)





MesoAmerican Barrier Reef System Initiative (Regional)





Strategic Action Programme for the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (Regional)





Seychelles – Marine Ecosystem Management Project





Philippines –Mindanao MPA Management





Viet Nam – Han Mun MPA (with IUCN and Danida)





Samoa - Marine Biodiversity Protection and Management





Colombia - Conservation and Sustainable use of the Serrania del Baudo





Marine Electronic Highway

EAP (Regional)




Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change (Phase 1)

LAC Regional




MACC - Caribbean Regional: Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change (Phase 2)

LAC (Regional)




Indonesia Bali Marine Conservation Center

East Asia-Pacific




Bay of Bengal - Large Marine Ecosystem

South Asia




Indonesia - Komodo Tourism





Philippines - Palawan

IFC (Regional)




Colombia – San Andres - CORALINA





Western Indian Ocean Fisheries

AFR (Regional)






In 1998, several coral reef scientists from around the world alerted the World Bank's Environment Department about the ENSO event and the unprecedented impact and mortality on coral reefs worldwide. During this period, many World Bank resident missions located in Small Island Developing States and coral reef-dependent countries voiced concern about the severity of the ENSO events and the potential impacts to coral reefs and surrounding local communities. Meetings were held within the World Bank and with the GEF to consider ways in which effective responses might be developed to address the environmental consequences. During these meetings, it became evident that pursuing remedies would be significantly limited due to the lack of information about the cause, effects and consequences of this global event, and the compounding variables associated with localized, chronic, anthropogenic stresses. Significant concern was also raised regarding the effects on local economies, and whether and how quickly these ecosystems may recover. Gathering significant information on this unprecedented coral bleaching event was an opportunity lost, largely because metrics were not in place to determine Before-After/Control-Impact conditions that could be adequately measured.

In February 19991, a concept paper was presented to the GEF Targeted Research Committee, and Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP). Under the International Waters OP 9, the concept proposed use of Targeted Research to address information gaps, such as those associated with coral bleaching and its consequences, to improve the knowledge base in responding to coral reef decline. At the direction of the Targeted Research Committee, the development of a Block B grant proposal was authorized, and was submitted to the Targeted Research Committee in June of 1999. After review and discussion, the GEF requested that additional information be developed through two Block A grants: one to be developed by the World Bank, and one by UNEP.
Although a Block A grant was never pursued by UNEP, a Block A proposal was submitted by the World Bank and approved in September, 2000. The Grant was used to carry out consultations with scientists around the world to define the most pressing questions concerning the vulnerability and resilience of coral reefs under localized stress regimes and the looming threat of climate change. A gap-analysis/literature review and bibliography (Annex 1) was undertaken. The literature review addresses information gaps under the categories listed below, and is being produced as a manuscript to be submitted for peer review and publication in a refereed journal as an output of the Block A grant.

  • multiple stressors

  • reviews

  • remediation

  • bioindicators

  • destructive fishing practices/overfishing

  • damage from oil spills

  • eutrophication/pollution

  • climate change and coral bleaching

  • sedimentation

  • storm damage

  • site-specific surveys (related to anthropogenic effects)

  • remote sensing.

The consultations and meetings were held in the following locations over a three-year period2:

  • Townsville, Australia, The International Tropical Marine Management Symposium, November, 1998

  • International Coral Reef Initiative-Coordination Planning Committee Meeting, Paris, February, 1999

  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, International Conference on the April, 1999

  • Honolulu, Hawaii, Remote Sensing of Coral Reef Resources, June, 1999

  • International Coral Reef Initiative-Coordination Planning Committee Meeting, Guadeloupe, October, 1999

  • Townsville, Australia, AIMS/UNEP, December, 1999

  • Riyadh, Saudia Arabia, February, 2000

  • International Coral Reef Initiative-Regional Workshop and Coordination Planning Committee Meeting Noumea, New Caledonia, April, 2000

  • Bali, Indonesia, 9th International Coral Reef Symposium, October, 2000

  • Paris, France. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Coral Reef Bleaching Indicator Working Group, April, 2001.

In addition to these consultations, the PDF Block proposal has been circulated for review to a number of the world’s leading coral reef scientists, to conservation NGOs, and to private foundations, all of whom have confirmed the importance of the proposed research and expressed interest in collaborating in this effort.
3. General Findings of the Block A Consultations
The recommendations stemming from the consultations reinforce the view that while significant changes have been obvious in many coral reef regions, the root causes of these observed changes remain poorly understood. Furthermore, the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems under various stress regimes—both chronic and acute, as in ENSO related events—cannot be predicted, given the non-linear response that has been observed in these and other complex ecosystems subject to multiple stressors (Scheffer 2001). The consultations consistently identified similar outstanding questions about coral reefs, and included the following issues:

  1. Scientists agreed that specific investigations are needed to improve basic understanding of the forcing functions that influence coral reef environments, community responses to disturbance, such as coral bleaching, and resilience capacity. However, current understanding of these mechanisms is inadequate to ensure their conservation for the future. For example, coral reef calcification rates depend on the calcium carbonate saturation state of surface seawater, and elevated CO2 concentrations associated with global warming are expected to reduce the capability of corals to calcify and accrete reef structures. The effect on calcification rates in combination with local anthropogenic stresses are not yet known, and combinations of impacts may lead to significant shifts in the structure, function or even existence of coral reefs in the future.

  1. Coral reefs are influenced by processes over a wide range of time and space scales. Better understanding is needed concerning population and recruitment dynamics (especially post-larval survivorship), and the role of fish spawning aggregations in maintaining connectivity between reefs and sustaining coral reef populations. Consequently, long-term studies (at least 10 years) are required to better understand the temporal and spatial variability in population dynamics and recruitment, and how this information can be applied in management contexts. Use of high resolution tools such as remote sensing were repeatedly identified by managers and scientists as a high priority to assist with these kinds of investigations.

  1. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were consistently identified as a potential focus to quantify effectiveness in protecting habitat and fisheries. A global network of coral reef MPAs may promote the long-term survival of coral reef communities, but an increased emphasis on scientific protocols to site, monitor and enhance management of coral reef MPAs in relation to climate change is needed.

  1. The development of reef restoration into an effective management tool requires approaches that encompass hypothesis-testing of the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of interventions.

  1. Investigations to address such questions should include a range of screening, monitoring and experimental design, the testing of specific hypotheses, and the investigation of multiple variables. Nested experimental designs that examine multiple stressors (such as sediment, nutrients, chemical pollutants) at a variety of spatial scales, were consistently recommended.

  1. To date, the level of synthesis in assessing the state of coral reefs globally has involved a range of low-resolution monitoring, qualitative assessments and anecdotal observations. Many of the participating scientists and managers queried, repeatedly stated the need for a rigorous and coordinated investigative framework to advance management interventions targeting specific problems.

4. Project Description and Overall Strategic Approach
From the Block A consultations, a series of major sub-themes emerge that serve as organizing principles around which the targeted research will revolve. The sub-themes include the following:

  • multiple factors affecting the biophysical, physiological and ecological responses of reefs which help determine their overall resilience or vulnerability under various stress regimes

  • the basis and spread of coral diseases, now affecting a large number of reef building corals

  • recruitment dynamics and survivorship affecting community structure (for corals, coral reef communities and larval fishes), and the relationship to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

  • the need to develop viable remediation techniques and enhance restoration

  • enhancement and application of specific tools, such as remote sensing and predictive model development for decision support to managers and policy-makers.

Based on these findings the activities under the targeted research program will be organized under the following five main components during the initial five-year phase:

  1. Formation and operation of thematic working groups under the guidance of a multi-disciplinary synthesis panel

  2. The testing of specific hypotheses and the implementation of plans and procedures for each of the working groups

  3. Capacity building through development of the applied, investigative research network for each working group, which will link developing country institutions with partners in the developed world.

  4. Strategy for dissemination of results and the application of relevant research findings to strengthen management interventions and enhance policy reforms over the short, medium and long-term.

  5. Project management and coordination with other initiatives linked to the Targeted Research.

Component 1. Formation and convening of thematic working groups and the guiding/Synthesis Panel
The purpose of this component is to establish the research framework and an oversight body to guide its implementation and integrate results for public dissemination. As part of their mandate, the working groups and synthesis panel will promote collaboration between developed and developing country scientists and institutions. To the extent possible, scientists from developing countries will form part of the Working Groups, and in regions where the research is carried out, individuals from developing country institutions will be invited to join the research as full partners. Six thematic working groups have been defined to address a particular sub-theme of the targeted research. These are:

  1. Coral Bleaching in response to climate-related and local ecological factors

  2. Remote Sensing

  3. Coral Diseases

  4. Larval Transport, Connectivity and implications for MPAs

  5. Remediation and Restoration

  6. Modeling

The chairs from each of these working groups will convene with other selected scientists to form a guiding, Synthesis Panel. This panel will serve to steer the targeted research framework, review results and modify the study designs as appropriate. The Panel will also be responsible for synthesizing and reporting findings to the scientific and management communities. To illustrate the scope and function of the working groups, detailed examples of two of the six working groups proposed are included below.

  1. IOC Working Group on Bleaching and local ecological factors

This working group was formed3 in early 2001 by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. The working group's first meeting was held in April 2001, and a second field-based meeting is planned in early March, 2002 to develop standard operating procedures and begin testing the experimental designs. The group's terms of reference involve the development of molecular, cellular, physiological and community indicators for coral bleaching under a range of variables. The group will also examine potential mechanisms of coral reefs for adaptation and acclimatization to environmental change. Based on consultations with World Bank staff, this Working Group has developed a series of detailed questions followed by specific, testable hypotheses. These hypotheses (see Annex 3) will be tested through a standardized set of controlled in-situ experiments, combined with concomitant, in-field measurements immediately adjacent to the controlled experiments. The experiments will be replicated in at least three different geographic locations initially, and then expanded as part of investigative infrastructure to establish a global network of study sites. Details of the experimental design are described in Component 2.

The actual mechanisms affecting coral stress, bleaching and subsequent mortality may involve a series of compounding variables (Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999). Thus, hypotheses have been developed to address three levels of investigation: molecular, cellular and coral polyp-level, and local ecological responses (see Annex 3 for details).


The outputs anticipated from this series of targeted investigations will be:

1. A series of biomarkers such as:

  • Molecular markers which will rapidly and easily distinguish heat stress from other types of stresses (e.g. sedimentation, metal contamination, nutrient stress) on coral reefs.

  • Cellular markers that will enable users to accurately anticipate and monitor the advent of coral bleaching or recovery.

  • Ecological markers that will enable users to monitor impacts of coral bleaching and to project how the changes are likely to impact on local ecosystem function.

  • Genetic markers that will enable insight into the tolerance and resilience of communities of reef-building corals.

2. A more complete model of the mechanisms that trigger mass coral bleaching, forecasting of events and prospects for recovery. This will contribute to adaptive management techniques to reduce localized stress during anticipated bleaching events and enable better projections of the impact of climate change on coral reefs, and impacts on those human communities relying upon them as sustainable resources.

  1. Working Group on Remote Sensing

Recent advancements in remote sensing technology make this area of inquiry highly significant in the study and monitoring of coral reefs (Mumby et al., 2001). Improved resolution and cost-effectiveness make remote sensing an indispensable and increasingly accessible tool for coral reef managers in mapping abundance and distribution of reefs, reef quality and vulnerability to stress as part of risk assessment. In June, 1999 the first global workshop on remote sensing of coral reefs was hosted by NOAA and ICLARM to examine the range of technology and advancements in application in a variety of ways ( Figure 1 depicts the range of measurements where remote sensing can be applied to support targeted investigations specifically for coral reefs.

During the Block A period a working group4 for this area of targeted research was established, and its first meeting held in Washington in early December 2001. The Australian Institute of Marine Science hosted a second planning meeting of this working group on January, 28, 2002 to review the latest data on Bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and the developing ENSO in the southern hemisphere and further refine their mandate.

It was agreed that during the Block B phase, the working group would:

  • Develop an agreed-upon assessment of the state of remote sensing of coral reefs

  • Confirm research priorities that address specific gaps in understanding and application

  • Establish objectives, identify sites, data requirements

  • Identify partners in developing countries and their infrastructure and information needs to effectively use remote sensing

The Working Group has already identified three priority areas of investigation. These are:

  1. Assessment and Reef conditions and health

  2. Provision of ecological data for spatial decision making (such as, MPA design)

  3. Describing the external physical processes affecting coral reef health (e.g. coral bleaching or other event)

The locations of investigations of this Working Group will overlap to the extent possible with those of the Bleaching and other working groups, to create synergies during the Block B phase and to capitalize on the experimental infrastructure developed by the various working groups and their developing country associations (see section on Working Group field logistics below).

Other Working Groups

  1. Working Group on Coral Diseases

In 1974, only two coral diseases were known to science. Today there are over 20 coral diseases and lesions that have been classified, even though the disease etiology has only been clearly established for about three or four. Disease frequencies have increased the most significantly within the Caribbean Basin. For example, Dustan et al. (1999) showed an increase in diseased coral species of over 215% from 1996-1998 in the Florida Keys, USA. However, coral diseases appear to be emerging within other regions as well, and an increasing number of researchers are now focused on elucidating disease origins, causes and impacts.

The purpose of the coral disease working group will be to examine the state of the science, prioritize and target those investigations that are critical to understanding coral disease, and how this information can assist managers in minimizing disease frequency and transmission. This working group will also consider developing studies that utilize the investigative infrastructure that will be piloted by the Bleaching Working group.

This working group has also been formed during the Block A period, with a coordinating chair identified and working group participants nominated.

Establishment of other working groups

The formation of the other working groups and their composition will occur during the Block B period; however, the focus of their investigations is briefly discussed below.

  1. Working Group on Larval transport, connectivity and coral reef MPA relevance

This working group will convene to examine the role that larval transport, recruitment, post-recruitment survival, and connectivity play in networking coral reef environments, particularly as they relate to the siting and management of marine protected areas. Genetic studies in addition to behavioral, ecological and broad scale oceanographic features will be integrated into models of reef connectivity. As such, the working group will collaborate with other working groups, (i.e. remote sensing and modeling), to apply technologies to this area of inquiry. The results of reef connectivity models will serve as powerful tools for managers seeking to build in resilience and recovery from ecosystem disturbance into the design of effective MPA networks.

  1. Working Group on Remediationand Restoration

Given the degree of decline within some coral reef regions, the role of remediation and restoration could have an increasingly important role in the future. Encouraging news from the Caribbean evidencing signs of recovery of the sea urchin Diadema antillarum, nearly two decades after its collapse (Knowlton 2001), open the door for enhancing restoration. However, viable approaches and technologies are still in early stages of development, and in most cases are currently difficult to implement on large spatial scales. This working group will convene to examine the state of remediation techniques and develop investigations that can test the efficacy of a range of potential applications. This will include the following considerations:

    1. the scientific protocols necessary to design and implement restoration strategies

    2. baseline data for developing effective criteria

    3. the efficacy and feasibility of restoration and remediation techniques.

    4. prospects for enhancing natural recovery

  1. Working Group on Modeling

One of the major objectives in developing a coordinated information and knowledge base through targeted research is so that coordinated data sets can improve the accuracy and reliability of forecasting and predictive modeling. Such models have the potential to alert managers to specific conditions, events or probabilities of events, so that appropriate and timely responses may occur. Questions on the functioning and responses of coral reef systems necessarily are multi-scalar and multi-disciplinary. They all include aspects of community dynamics, physical oceanography, climate dynamics and climate change. Many also include sociological and economic components from fisheries, tourism, coastal development, inland agriculture and industry. These questions are necessarily explored at relatively large spatial, and long time scales. They will only be answered with extensive data sets requiring substantial computational and data storage capacity. To be successful, this project must develop modeling tools to handle these kinds of data. This will be the task of the Modeling Working Group. This working group will convene during the Block B period to examine the state-of-the-science and, in collaboration with other working groups, determine the current and potential applications of integrated data modeling for management.
Field Sites and Logistics
Part of the power of a global research infrastructure will be to relate investigations to information at different scales. To create synergies between working groups, build comprehensive databases and strengthen capacity in the field, efforts will be made to target investigations of the different working groups at many of the same field locations. At least initially, the Bleaching Working Group will work in three coral reef regions of the world—the Indo-Pacific, the Western Caribbean, and the Western Indian Ocean. Field sites within these regions will depend on the location of existing institutions or centers of excellence that can host the type of research proposed by the Working Groups. Ideally, these centers would serve as nodes or focal points for the research to be carried out within each region, while building capacity elsewhere in the region. Where possible, twinning arrangements would be designed whereby the nodal institution would host visiting investigators from other facilities to take part in the research. This will be particularly important where baseline information, controlled experimental conditions and communications infrastructure will be essential to carry out rigorous research design (see Figure 2, below).5 Following the initial phase, investigators would return to their home institutions to set up replicates and carry out sequential or comparative studies. (see Figure 4). A network of field sites and research institutions would be linked in this process. The University of Queensland on the Great Barrier Reef and a site in Thailand or the Philippines in the Indo-Pacific; the University of Mexico in Puerto Morelos, in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System; and the Tanzanian Institute of Marine Research, in Zanzibar, will be the initial nodal institutions for the Bleaching Working Group.
In the establishment of subsequent working groups, designated member(s) of the group would visit existing research sites in order to determine the suitability of these sites for their research. This would allow them to discuss logistics and verify the types of coral reef present (depths, habitat types), and to undertake ground-truth activities, such as the measurement of water turbidity / attenuation coefficients and the identification of local data sources. Ideally, there would be three field locations in each region, comprising a suite of varying water quality, biophysical parameters and reef systems within each region. However, to ensure the necessary flexibility required by each Working Group to pursue its agreed lines of inquiry, the numbers and locations of sites would not be limited to those identified above, and would likely be expanded in concert with the global network infrastructure over the life of the Targeted Research Program.

Establishment of the Synthesis Panel

Without clear vision at the beginning, it is difficult to establish any program that will provide useful data for a range of applications. This is why the program must have a strong conceptual foundation and be hypothesis-driven. As stated earlier, the Chairs from each of the six working groups, and selected senior scientists, managers and policy specialists will form a Synthesis Panel for the Targeted Research Program. The role of the Synthesis Panel will be to review the priorities and activities of each of the working groups, and provide guidance in establishing the global framework. The panel will also discuss the findings of each of the working groups over time, and in combination with reviews of the scientific literature, synthesize and publish findings that can relate to practical applications for management and policy development. An objective of this panel will also be to serve as a collective voice and in collaboration with the International Society for Reef Studies, serve to coordinate scientific knowledge of coral reefs at a global level. During year 4 of the project, the Synthesis Panel, in conjunction with the working groups will agree on research priorities for phase two of the program, and the research framework to support its implementation.

Component 2. Implementation of studies to test specific hypotheses
Under the GEF guidelines for Targeted Research, activities should be highly focused in their effort to address specific questions. This program aims to establish a foundation of study sites and controlled experiments that can be replicated and built upon over time. The Bleaching Working Group will provide an initial series of experiments to test the hypotheses outlined in Component 1. The infrastructure will provide a basis for other studies.
The experiments will employ a set of controlled mesocosms where variables, such as water temperature, photosynthetically active and ultraviolet radiation, can be controlled against other variables, such as water turbidity and oxygen concentration, nutrients and pollutants (see Figure 2). These experiments will not only test these selected hypotheses, but they will also serve as standards, or benchmarks for field measurements, so that results can be compared and subsequent models developed to help predict where vulnerabilities lie and when reef responses to various stresses may occur.

Figure 2. Schematic depicting the basic experimental design for the Bleaching Working Group.

Another foundation for the targeted research program will rest with the use of complementary approaches and operating procedures with the other coral reef sub-themes and working groups. By coordinating investigations, the working groups have the potential to build an information base that can directly relate findings across space and time (Figure 3). Building common data sets over extended periods of time is a powerful approach to targeted research because it will help guide the overall framework in developing a core set of measurements that can be closely related to one another.

Figure 3. Example of how the various targeted research working groups can collaborate in their investigations and coordinate information through use of complementary study designs and locations. Such complementary data collection not only strengthens findings but also enhances correlation between different scales.

Component 3. Identification and Development of the Applied, Investigative Network among developing countries.

This component will work with developing country institutions to expand the network of study sites globally. Each of the members of the working groups, and the Synthesis Panel will participate in using their professional networks to identify locations and institutions that either have existing interest and capacity, or that can have their capacity enhanced to become part of the active network.

Component 4. Development and implementation of Guidelines for the application of relevant findings for management and policy intervention.

In concert with the Synthesis Panel, working group members and supporting staff will design, plan and implement guidelines for the application of relevant findings into management and policy operations. Part of this initiative will be working with on-going management programs, such as the such as the suite of GEF and other co-financed projects referred to in part in Table 1, the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), the Nature Conservancy/Conservation International’s Global Marine Program, WRI’s analysis of Reefs at Risk, ICLARM’s work on coral reefs and that of other institutions, to improve effectiveness of, to ensure that the results of the research are practically applied where they will have the greatest impact on the conservation of the world’s coral reefs.

Figure 4. Illustration of the institutional linkages involved in designing, implementing and disseminating the results of the investigations in the field. Institutional Nodes, or Centers of Excellence, provide the quality control and research rigor required to carry out the experimental design formulated by the working groups and endorsed by the Synthesis Panel. Capacity building is the result of collaboration between a Node and other research facilities in selected locations with coral reef ecosystems. Research results are channeled to management projects and activities to inform decision making, and to policymakers to introduce needed reforms. Similar clusters of node and satellite institutions are envisioned in each region and some of the working groups may overlap in their use of field sites and clusters to carry out investigations.

Component 5. Project Management and Coordination
This component will support the technical assistance, financial services, training, logistical and operational requirements necessary to ensure the appropriate and efficient administration of project activities and resources. It will also pursue institutional and financial arrangements to ensure the long-term sustainability of the targeted research in subsequent phases of the program. A number of partner institutions are already committed to working with ICLARM and the World Bank during the Block B Phase, and several private foundations have signaled their interest in collaborating in the Targeted Research once it is launched. A key task of the implementing institution and associated executing entities will be the consolidation of such emerging partnerships during the initial phase, and creation of a blueprint for implementing the next phase of research priorities, which will be identified by the Working Groups and Synthesis Panel.

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