G 98-81

CONTACT:  John Robinson                          FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


At the first meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force today in Biscayne National Park, Fla., Commerce Department Deputy Secretary Robert Mallett announced several new programs designed to better protect the nation's coral reefs and ensure their long-term ecological and economic vitality.

The new programs include increased monitoring of water quality and biological diversity in critical coral reef systems including pristine coral areas off the coast of Florida; grant awards for monitoring and education projects in U.S. Territories and Hawaii; additional new funds available for local-level coral conservation projects; and expanded mapping of U.S. coral reef ecosystems to help local, state and federal decision-makers protect valuable coral reefs.

These projects will forge new partnerships among government agencies, conservation groups, and the private sector to more effectively monitor and manage the health of U.S. coral reefs. The Coral Reef Task Force was established to help protect and sustainably manage coral reefs through additional partnerships and focused conservation actions.

"At the Commerce Department we understand that a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand," Mallett said. "Nowhere is this more true than in coastal areas where the natural resource-based economies depend on rich habitats like coral reefs. Coral reefs, the 'rain forests of the sea,' are vital to us all. They are a source of jobs, food and even potentially life-saving medicines."

Deputy Secretary Mallett announced that the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will carry out the new coral projects working with a variety of state, territory and nongovernmental partners. The new projects will include:

The Coral Reef Task Force was established by Presidential Order on June 11, 1998, as part of the National Ocean Conference in Monterey, Calif. The Task Force consists of senior leaders of 11 federal agencies and is co-chaired by the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Commerce. The Task Force was created to help implement research, monitoring, mapping, conservation, restoration and international measures to reduce human impacts on coral reefs.