Coral reef resilience to climate change in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands

A scube-diver swims across a coral-covered landscape.
Steven McKagan, one of a team of researchers and managers assessing reef resilience in CNMI, is shown here evaluating fish communities in the Coral Gardens near the island of Rota. (Photo: JMaynard)

Coral reefs are sometimes called “rainforests of the sea” because of their immense biological diversity and economic value. While coral reefs are sensitive to changes in their environment such as altered temperature or pollution, some reefs are more resilient, or able to recover from disturbance more quickly, than others. The overarching objective of this project was to gather information on coral reef resilience and vulnerability to climate change that could inform coastal management decision-making in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Scientists collaborated with local managers to survey reefs at 78 locations throughout the CMNI and evaluate indicators of resilience, such as numbers of juvenile corals and plant-eating fish. Their findings highlight priority sites for management action and identify which management actions (e.g., fisheries regulation, pollution reduction, reef restoration and monitoring) will best support natural resilience at each site. Local managers are currently using the results to inform and improve the effectiveness of their coastal management planning.

Color-coded maps of several islands show relative resilience potential of local coral sites.
Inter-island resilience assessment results for the Northern Mariana Islands in the west Pacific.




Laurie Raymundo
Professor of Marine Biology, University of Guam


Jeffrey Maynard
Marine Applied Research Center