Results Announced from Global Survey of Tools and Resources for Addressing Climate Change Impacts on Marine Ecosystems

By Sarah Carr, EBM Tools Network Coordinator

To this point, there has been a lack of information on which tools and resources have been used to address current and potential climate change impacts on marine ecosystems, as well as which have proven most effective. To help address this information gap, the EBM Tools Network, in collaboration with, conducted a short survey of practitioners who are or were involved in actions to address climate change impacts on marine ecosystems. We asked them which tools and resources they have used in their work and how helpful these were. The resulting list provides an information base that can help other practitioners hone in more quickly on those tools and resources that may be useful for their work.

What we found is that practitioners are using a wide variety of tools and resources with relatively little overlap (i.e. usage of the same tool by different projects). On one hand, it is encouraging that there are so many tools and resources to choose from to assist with extremely diverse marine climate change adaptation activities (ranging from protecting critical habitats to reducing anthropogenic stressors to monitoring for disease and invasive species). However, the plethora of tools and resources available also raises the perennial challenges facing conservation and management tools: 1) practitioners often find it extremely difficult and time-consuming to compare, evaluate, and select from such varied options and 2) individual tools and resources may not receive the time and attention needed to make them user-friendly and keep them up to date with the latest science and technology. (See for a fuller treatment of problems related to resource management tool development.) We at the EBM Tools Network highly recommend a more detailed followup study of many of the tools cited here to assist practitioners further in selecting optimal tools for their work.

About the survey and analysis

The survey was conducted in October-November 2013 using a short survey instrument sent to members of the EBM Tools Network (5,000+ practitioners worldwide) and the mailing list for (1,000+ practitioners worldwide). The survey instrument was likely distributed even more widely since the target audiences listed above were also encouraged to pass it along to colleagues.

We took a broad view of “tools and resources” for the purposes of the survey. We asked about written guides, models, protocols, replicable methodologies, computer software, apps, databases, and other types of resources practitioners have found useful for conducting their marine climate change adaptation work. In all, 102 practitioners responded to the survey and cited 133 items (with some duplication in items cited). Some of the potential tools and resources cited are not presented in this summary because they were projects, rather than tools or resources, or because we were unable to find information about them on-line. (As an example of what was included in this summary, a reference to a project that restored mangroves would not be included, but if the restoration project created a guide describing a detailed methodology on how to restore mangroves, the guide would be included.) The end result is a list of 60 individual tools and resources (referred to as “tools” hereafter).

Respondents were asked to rate the utility of tools they cited on a scale ranging from “Yes, definitely useful” to “Not useful”. All tools cited, except for those still in development or where the project was just initiating use of the tool, were rated as “Yes, definitely useful” or “Mostly useful” by respondents.

Most frequently cited tools

Only seven (7) tools were cited by multiple respondents. Those tools include:

  • Coastal Resilience (6 citations;
    • What respondents are using tool for: Examining storm surge, sea level rise, natural resources, and economic assets. Developing risk reduction and restoration solutions. Determining economic impacts of climate change in coastal areas. Conducting risk assessment mapping. Determining socially vulnerable areas exposed to coastal hazards. Visualizing impact of sea level rise on coastal communities. Estimating vulnerability and adaptive capacity to focus adaptation planning. Demonstrating scenarios for coastal communities in sea level rise, resilience, flood insurance, adaptation planning discussions. Works globally as well as in specific regions.
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) (5 citations of Esri ArcGIS,; 2 citations of general GIS platforms,
    • What respondents are using tool for: Mapping locations of ecosystems, critical habitats, key resource areas, population influences, and threats as well as planning surveys. Assessing and visualizing sea level rise and ecosystem and socioeconomic impacts.
  • Reef Check (3 citations;
    • What respondents are using tool for: Monitoring comparative reef health across the country and comparing project success. Comparing patterns in coral cover using data from multiple sources. Facilitating citizen science.
  • Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) (3 citations;
    • What respondents are using tool for: Identifying likely changes of estuarine marshes to a variety of sea level rise scenarios. Identifying areas for future marsh migration and seeking to permanently protect from development. Sharing mapping scenarios with municipalities and working on land use planning policy and land conservation projects that mitigate marsh losses from sea level rise.
  • Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) (2 citations;
    • What respondents are using tool for: Rapidly assessing changes in reef condition during and following ecological perturbations and customizable online reporting.
  • Marine Geospatial Ecology Tools (MGET) (2 citations;
    • What respondents are using tool for: Acquiring various satellite data (sea surface temperature, productivity, etc.). Creating a predictive raster for suitable habitat from the General Additive Model based on water quality.
  • Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer (2 citations;
    • What respondents are using tool for: First order mapping of sea level rise inundation for community planning purposes. Demonstrating scenarios for coastal communities in sea level rise, resilience, flood insurance, adaptation planning discussions.

Additional coral-related tools (1 citation each, in alphabetical order)

Tools with broad regional applicability (1 citation each, in alphabetical order)

Location-specific tools cited that may have applicability to other regions (1 citation each, in alphabetical order)

Megafauna-related tools (1 citation each, in alphabetical order)

Projects using these tools

The majority of projects referenced in the survey are/were associated with North American countries and territories (particularly the continental United States, Canada, and Caribbean counties and territories; see Figure 1) with another locus of projects associated with countries and territories in Oceania (defined using the most inclusive definition at Projects are/were working in a wide variety of marine habitats (see Figure 2) with the most projects working in wetland habitats (including mudflats, marshes, and mangroves; 64 projects), coral reefs (61 projects), submerged seagrass habitats (58 projects), rocky and/or sandy intertidal habitats (including beaches; 54 projects), and estuaries (52 projects). And the vast majority of projects were in the planning stage or early implementation stage at the time of the survey (see Figure 3).

Figure 1: Project locations referenced by respondents. Several respondents referenced multiple project locations or locations spanned continental boundaries therefore the total number of locations (105) is higher than the number of survey respondents (102).

Figure 2: Marine habitats in which respondent projects are working. Numerous projects are working in multiple types of habitats therefore the total number of projects working in various habitats is substantially higher than the number of survey respondents (102). “Other habitats” include Arctic ecosystems, coastal cliffroots, port structures, and oil rigs, buoys, and jetties.

Figure 3: Work stage of respondent projects.

Projects represented in this survey are undertaking a wide variety of marine climate change adaptation activities (see Figure 4) including:

  • Protecting representative areas, key ecosystem features, refugia, naturally resilient areas, and/or replicate areas (includes designating and increasing protection level of MPAs and networks of MPAs; 71 projects);
  • Reducing anthropogenic stressors (53 projects)
  • Restoring habitats, ecosystems, etc. (46 projects), and
  • Monitoring for disease, invasive species, ecosystem function, etc. (37 projects).

Survey respondents were given the option of writing in other types of activities they were conducting in addition to listed activities above, and they described a wide range of other activities including:

  • Creating awareness of areas vulnerable to sea level rise
  • Reducing invasive species stressors to coral reefs
  • Preventing sediment eroded from shorelines due to sea level rise and severe weather events from being deposited on reefs
  • Managing marine fisheries (recreational and commercial) and marine protected species in the context of climate change and natural variability.

Figure 4: Nature of climate change adaptation activities being undertaken by projects represented in this survey. Numerous projects are undertaking multiple types of activities therefore the total number of projects undertaking specific activities is substantially higher than the number of survey respondents (102).

In conclusion, the EBM Tools Network would like to express our sincere thanks to all of the practitioners who took the time to complete the survey and share their experiences knowledge with the rest of the coastal-marine conservation and management community. Your participation is appreciated. Best wishes for your work!


I don't actually remember if I took the survey, but looking at the results, there are many resources listed that I wouldn't have thought of as "tools," at least not in an EBM context.  The tools I have seen in your webinars tend to be models to visualize outcomes, or aids to decision-making.  I come away from these thinking they are cool but that they probably were more valuable to the designers than to the users.  They do help me think out what factors will affect possible outcomes, even if I don't ever get back to using the tool.  Some of the resources you list above are more like methods manuals or data exchanges.  And I'm sure many people are using GIS but not thinking of it as a specific "tool."  So some resources may have much wider use than your survey indicates.  On the other hand, I had to wonder if for some of the very specific "tools," the one respondent who used it was in fact the creator...

Maybe now that you have an idea of the range of responses, you could design a more focused survey that would ask about the specific tools named here.  You might find that they are more used than the first survey indicated. 

I was glad to see the reference to Curtice et al., and that the issue of updating useful tools is getting some attention if not action.

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