OneReef Community Partnerships

Marshall Islands

We exist to address a problem

The problem:
Coral reefs support 25% of all marine biodiversity, but we’ve destroyed 50% of all coral reef habitat.

The solution:
We partner with island communities to better protect their coral reefs by combining modern resources with traditional stewardship.

Community protection on the rise

(Click graphs to enlarge)

Hard coral and marine fish are protected

OneReef estimates that its Community Partner Portfolio now protects about 35% of hard coral species worldwide, and about 18% of coral reef fish worldwide, based on existing data collected from Helen Reef Atoll, Micronesia, and the world.

Community managed, protected, and coral reef areas are increasing

Community managed area: area over which community has jurisdiction, and is part of OneReefʼs community partnership agreement.
Protected area:
predominantly no-take zones, legally recognized and vetted by the government
Coral reef area: area that supports reef building hard
coral species 

The community protection movement is growing

Current: 15 Community Partners engaged, with 14 long-term partnership agreements in place,  6 of which have 5+ years of funding.  
By 2027: 22+ Community Partners engaged, with 20+ long-term partnership agreements in place,  all of which  have 5+ years of funding. 

MPAs work when they are big, enforced, networked – and especially when managed by communities who retain traditional forms of stewardship. MPAs managed by communities work best: fish biomass is higher; coral cover is higher.


Marshall Islands and Nauru (Micronesia Region)

2024 projected:
First sites in Melanesia and Polynesia, where an increasing number of communities protect their ocean resources using traditional stewardship and modern resources.

Evidence of Impact

Independent, peer-reviewed research indicated OneReef Community Partnerships have higher biomass of important fish than adjacent areas outside the One Reef Community Partnerships and that our no-take areas have even more fish (data compiled by Friedlander et al. 2017 PLOS and simplified for display here).

Evidence that OneReef Community Partnership Marine Protected Areas work

Why it Matters:

  • Coral reefs support 25% of all marine life.
  • About 50% of coral reefs have been lost in the past 40 years.


  • MPAs are critical, especially when they are big, enforced, and networked.
  • Marginal: small, poorly enforced MPAs with periodic openings.

Representative Findings

  • Globally: Well-enforced, no-take and old (>10 years) MPAs had higher coral cover than fished sites, mostly due to the increased cover of massive coral growth forms (Strain et al, 2018).

  • South Pacific: On Great Barrier Reef, MPA reef community composition was 21–38% more stable; disturbance impacts were 30% lower; and, recovery was 20% faster than on adjacent unprotected reefs (Mellin et al, 2016).

  • OneReef Community Partnership MPAs: Published, third party study found that no-take MPAs had, on average, nearly twice the biomass of resource fishes (i.e. those important commercially, culturally, or for subsistence) compared to nearby unprotected areas (Friedlander et al, 2017).

Community Managed MPAs work in Micronesia
Palau exceeds world % hard coral cover

New data from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows that the percent of hard coral cover around 6 of Palau’s Southwest Islands is greater than the percent of hard coral cover in the world as reported by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (2020)

Data for Palau from Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Data for the world from GCRMN Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2020 report

Community Managed MPAs work in Palau

The MPA sites studied by Friedlander et al 2017 align with OneReef Community Partner sites (in blue below):

Study Sites:
● Ngelukes – Ngchesar State ● Ngermasech – Ngardmau State ● Illeyakl Beluu – Ngardmau State ● Ebiil – Ngarchelong State ● Ngerderrak – Koror State, Rock Island Southern Lagoon ● Ngemelis – Koror State, Rock Island Southern Lagoon ● Ngerumekaol – Pelilieu State

Theory of Change

Representative Findings

Pick and implement MPAs at sites that exhibit a healthy climate change stress response, e.g., healthy coral cover despite bleaching episodes. Owned by communities that execute successful LMMAs.

  • Expected outcome: healthy reefs and vibrant communities


  • Short term: recovery/maintenance of herbivorous fishes – indicates potential for bleaching recovery, increase in hard coral cover
  • Medium term: rapid growth of “pioneering” hard coral species post bleaching, e.g., branching acropora species and CCA (crustose coralline algae) – indicates early-stage recovery of hard coral assemblages
  • Longer term: diverse/high % hard coral cover – indicates resilience of the whole system
  • Poaching indicators: presence of older giant clams, sharks, large carnivorous fishes – indicates little or no poaching