Ningaloo: a model for reef management with a localized action plan

The Ningaloo community has reached a pivotal point in their efforts to address the impacts of climate change on their reef. With the introduction of a comprehensive action plan under the Ningaloo Resilience Strategy, reef managers and community members are now equipped with the tools needed to build climate resilience and implement solutions at a local level.

©Sam Lawrence

The strategy co-designed a local solution using a resilience-based management approach developed by the global Resilient Reefs Initiative that supports World Heritage coral reefs and the communities that depend on them to adapt to climate change and local threats.

The local challenges 

Ningaloo Marine Park is culturally, economically, and ecologically important. The park encompasses Australia’s largest and most accessible fringing coral reef system and contributes an estimated $110 million to the Western Australia economy and over 1,000 full time jobs annually.

Three more World Heritage sites are participating in the pilot phase of Resilient Reefs: Lagoons of New Caledonia, Rock Island Southern Lagoon in Palau and Belize Barrier Reef. ©Sam Lawrence

With the effects of climate change, growing population, and increased tourism, the Ningaloo Coast is expected to face human and environmental impacts in the next few decades.  

While some of these pressures are already experienced, the strategy becomes more relevant as the frequency and intensity of marine heatwaves and storms are predicted to increase in the next 20 years, and the effects of rising sea levels and ocean acidification may be felt within the next 50 years.

A collaboration model 

Ningaloo Reef is managed jointly by the Traditional Owners of the area and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA). DBCA and Traditional Owners partner with the Resilient Reefs Initiative to deliver this ambitious work.

Mapping with Traditional Owners. The Baiyungu, Thalanyji and Yinikurtura people are the Traditional Owners of Ningaloo Reef country. ©Joel Johnsson

Through a range of consultation and engagement activities that included interviews, workshops, working group meetings, online surveys and social events, the Ningaloo community contributed to the development of the Resilience Strategy, making it an example of stakeholders, decision makers, government representatives and solo initiatives' coordination.

5 key engagement actions:

A comprehensive action plan

The Ningaloo Coast Resilience Strategy focuses on five key goals and 80 individual actions to guide management priorities for the next 20 years: 

1. Thriving and resilient ecosystems  

2. Educated and empowered community 

3. Sustainable development and livelihoods 

4. Flexible, proactive and data driven management systems 

5. Leadership in sustainability and resilience. 

To support the development of the Strategy, the Resilient Reefs is currently funding three priority areas at Ningaloo worth over $140,000.

The projects span a behaviour change initiative delivered by Ningaloo Marine Interactions, a youth stewardship and engagement project delivered by Oceanwise, and a project focused on community engagement and education to be delivered by the Coral Bay Progress Association.

©Joel Johnsson

As the Ningaloo Resilience Strategy is the first of its kind for a UNESCO reef site, it is expected it will serve as a local roadmap for other reef management authorities seeking to understand what climate adaptation for reef and community can look like.


Initiated by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Resilient Reefs is a collaboration with UNESCO, The Nature Conservancy’s Reef Resilience Network, Columbia University’s Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes, Resilient Cities Catalyst, and AECOM. The program is funded by the BHP Foundation.   

Read more about our Environmental Resilience program.

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