Managing climate change refugia for local-scale persistence of valued ecological communities – while longer-term solutions are enacted – is a well-accepted approach for conservation management of terrestrial ecosystems (Morelli et al. 2016). To apply this approach to the marine environment, we need increased knowledge about why some reefs bleach and die, while others recover and survive – essentially a resilience-based approach to finding and actively defending future climate refuges for the Great Barrier Reef.


The conceptual framework for climate change adaptation via refugia proposed by Morelli et al. (2016) is spatially explicit and tied to particular actions for managing specific resources.


Well-supported methods that objectively identify and prioritise naturally-occurring temperature havens in reef ecosystems (Chollet and Mumby 2013, Maynard et al. 2015a) have already been applied to inform coral reef management throughout the Pacific (e.g. Maynard et al. 2015b, Maynard et al. 2016). There is no impediment to the application and/or adaptation of these methods to identifying reef havens on the Great Barrier Reef.

A coordinated program of science-based and steadily more effective interventions could then be used to defend these havens, reducing localised coral stress, maintaining complex coral ecosystems, and providing time and space for natural adaptation processes to occur. In the even longer-term, once global temperatures stabilise (>20 years from now), these complex warm-adapted communities could contribute to rebuilding the Reef.

Conceptually, Reef Havens provides a framework and way forward for current and subsequent government and industry investment in the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef. In addition to the existing marine park zoning plan, improving water quality and improving crown-of-thorns starfish control methods, this approach will provide selected reef sites with multiple layers of protection and state-of-the-art monitoring. This approach is in alignment with active research and management agendas of GBRMPA, AIMS (eg Assisted Evolution program), GBRF, Reef Trust, Reef 2050, NESP TWQ and international efforts such as the 50 Reefs initiative. In addition, the treatment and control sites developed and maintained through Reef Havens will potentially provide opportunities for “piggy-backing” of scientific studies into reef resilience and recovery after bleaching.


Chollet, I., Mumby, P. (2013) Reefs of last resort: Locating and assessing thermal refugia in the wider Caribbean. Biol Cons 167: 179-86

Maynard, J. A., Mckagan, S., Raymundo, L., Johnson, S., Ahmadia, G.N., Johnston, L., van Hooidonk, R. (2015a) Assessing relative resilience potential of coral reefs to inform management. Biological Conservation, 192, 109-119

Maynard, J.A., McKagan, S., Raymundo, L., Johnson, S., Ahmadia, G., Johnston, L., Houk, P., Williams, G., Kendall, M., Heron, S., van Hooidonk, R., Mcleod, E. (2015b) Assessing relative resilience potential of coral reefs to inform management in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Prepared for CNMI BECQ and NOAA as part of the Northern Mariana Islands Coral Reef Initiative with The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Marine Resources Institute and University of Guam

Maynard, J., Conklin, E., Minton, D., Most, R., Couch, C., Williams, G.J., Gove, J., Schumacher, B., Walsh, W., Martinez, J., Harper, D., Jayewardene D., Parker, B., Watson, L. (2016) Relative resilience potential and bleaching severity in the West Hawai’i Habitat Focus Area in 2015. NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. NOAA Technical Memorandum CRCP 26, 53 pp

Morelli, T.L., Daly, C., Dobrowski, S.Z., Dulen, D.M., Ebersole, J.L., Jackson, S.T., Nydick, K.R. (2016) Managing climate change refugia for climate adaptation. PLoS One, 11(8), e0159909