Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

Developing recommendations for coral disease management in Puerto Rico using key informant interviews and participatory mapping



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Publication Title

Ocean & Coastal Management



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coral reef management, coral diseases, participatory mapping, key informant interviews


Coral diseases pose one of the greatest threats to sustained coral reef health in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources oversees government-led coral reef conservation initiatives in the archipelago and made coral disease management a priority following the outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease. This highly virulent and contagious coral disease arrived in Puerto Rico in 2019 and has caused unparalleled coral cover losses. The goal of this study was to use expert local knowledge for the development of coral disease management recommendations. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 36 key informants representing 23 institutions throughout Puerto Rico. Participants were additionally guided through a participatory mapping exercise to identify coral disease field observations and recommend priority monitoring and intervention sites. Interview inductive coding analysis led to the identification of 10 coral disease management recommendations, each of which contain corresponding actions and strategies under four themes: monitoring, intervention, research, and education. Commonly occurring themes amongst interviewee recommendations included collaboration, communication, organization, and local capacity building. Participatory mapping exercises resulted in 193 disease sighting entries containing 778 disease observations, as well as 149 recommendations for priority coral disease monitoring and/or intervention efforts. The most frequently selected criteria for determining priority sites for coral disease intervention and monitoring were ecological importance, chance of recovery, logistical convenience, and high prior monitoring. An integrated assessment based on priority site selection criteria and interviews was used to identify 14 priority locations for monitoring and intervention and 7 priority locations for targeted citizen science outreach. The results of this study are currently being used to inform coral disease management decision making in a way that uses local knowledge, engages diverse partners, and encourages interagency and cross-regional collaborations. This study can be used as a guide for other localities seeking to develop comprehensive and localized marine ecosystem management plans.





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This project was conducted as part of the National Coral Reef Management Fellowship program, which is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program and the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs.

Data availability

The link to the published participatory mapping dataset is available via Mendeley at

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