Integrating and Improving Monitoring and Reef Management

September 06, 2019

Scientists conduct integrated monitoring of coral reefs and communities in Guam.

Children at Manell-Geus Habitat Focus Area Kids Camp

Children at Manell-Geus Habitat Focus Area Kids Camp learned about stream bank erosion and invasive bamboo species as major contributors to village flooding. Photo: NOAA.

Inafa’maolek (making it good) is one of the core values of CHamoru culture. It means living harmoniously with each other, i tano (the land), i tasi (the ocean), and i gåga siha (the animals), and working together to make things right.

For the CHamoru community of Merizo in southern Guam, people and nature are closely intertwined. The CHamoru, Guam’s indigenous people, have strong cultural connections to the sea. Their resilience to climate change is closely tied to their participation in coastal habitat improvements and governance practices. Their capacity for coastal resource management is critical to its success. 

NOAA’s coastal management initiative in the village of Merizo is called the Manell-Geus Habitat Focus Area. Its initial focus was on improving watershed management to support the biology of the system and the health of the reef. The focus was expanded in 2014 to three objectives that would promote ecological health and human well-being and support holistic natural resource management: 

  1. Improve coral reef ecosystem health. 

  2. Improve community resilience to climate change impacts. 

  3. Enhance community capacity to manage coastal resources. 

New methods were required to track whether management was effective. We were part of a team that used integrated monitoring to assess whether the watershed management outcomes were being achieved. We also used it to improve understanding of the complex relationships between social and ecological systems and their governance.

The evolution of the adaptive management process in the Manell-Geus Habitat Focus Area (MGHFA) in Merizo, Guam.

The evolution of the adaptive management process in the Manell-Geus Habitat Focus Area (MGHFA) in Merizo, Guam.

The initial management strategy focused on watershed restoration (Cycle 1). Social assessments indicated that the community was concerned about flooding, so we expanded the management strategy to incorporate flood reduction (Cycle 2). After Manell-Geus was designated as the habitat focus area, we created the integrated monitoring program to assess biophysical and social indicators such as coral cover, land cover, and concern about flooding. The team conducted biophysical assessments to identify flooding risks and causes, and introduced social monitoring. We used that information to develop the social–ecological system model and further expand the management strategies to increase community engagement and develop targeted approaches to reduce flooding (Cycle 3). At this stage, we added the management strategies of bamboo removal, increased reforestation, physical erosion controls, and inclusion of native plants in restoration efforts. 

The Future Cycle includes additional strategies based on recent monitoring and community assessments and project performance. We included restoration of coral cover impacted by coral bleaching events, prevention of fires during drought, and restoration of mangroves to mitigate sea level rise.

Integrated monitoring involves a multidisciplinary team that shares monitoring objectives that incorporate metrics of social and biophysical conditions. Scientists from NOAA’s field office in Guam, the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the University of Guam, and the University of Hawai‘i have worked with coastal resource managers and stakeholders to create the integrated monitoring approach for the Manell-Guess Habitat Focus Area. The team has linked changes in each system with ecological targets and human well-being objectives. The team also identified indicators that can be used to inform the adaptive management process for the project.

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The management strategy transformation from a single focus on biology objectives to one which includes community well-being.

Is integrated monitoring easy to pursue? 

Honestly, it is not. There are many obstacles to overcome. By its very nature, integrated monitoring requires the participation of scientists from different disciplines. The team must be willing to explore new methods, learn new vocabularies, and bridge disparate objectives. It requires team members to adopt a stance of mutual respect and trust and appreciate that all team members have different disciplinary expertise to offer. Successful integration also requires facilitation and coordination and can take a long time to implement. As the proverb goes, “if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”

Is integrated monitoring worth the effort? 

Absolutely. Our experience has proven that integrated monitoring is possible. Our team came together with a shared goal to support holistic adaptive management and a limited budget. Humans are intimately linked to island ecosystems. Managers must understand the human dimensions, working beyond the purely biophysical concepts to address the full social-ecological system. 

The importance of this approach is well captured by a reef biologist from the University of Guam: “While I believe that our work is an important component of any effective marine resource management approach, the products of ecological assessment, monitoring, and research activities are rendered nearly useless when the human dimension of resource management is not well understood or neglected. When these [social] scientists have collected data to identify people who are key to solving a problem, we need community liaisons who people trust to engage and work toward solutions.... we did a pretty good job getting the message out—that our reefs are in trouble.  But it wasn’t enough.” 

His recommendation for future efforts? “I believe that we need to keep our strong biophysical programs, but we also need to dedicate new resources to social scientists who can help us put our data in a context that drives positive change, and to trusted liaisons who can help affect that change. If we don’t adapt, I fear we will continue to fail more than we succeed, and we will not adequately enhance the resilience of our reefs and of our vulnerable human communities in the face of a coral reef crisis and a climate catastrophe.”

Community members in Manell-Geus Habitat Focus Area

Community members in Manell-Geus Habitat Focus Area forest restoration efforts. Photo: Guam BSP/Patrick Keeler.

For more information on the story on integrated monitoring of the Manell-Guess Habitat Focus Area, process, and lessons, please visit NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint for Manell-Geus.

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Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on September 18, 2019