CONTACT: John Robinson FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
COMMERCE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCES CORAL REEF PROTECTION PROGRAM
AT TASK FORCE MEETING
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
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:
- New Program to Monitor Coral Reefs: NOAA will
develop a comprehensive coral reef monitoring program to asses current
reef conditions and allow managers to quickly spot, track, study, and
possibly prevent declines in coral reef condition. The program will
initially focus on five of NOAA's 34 marine and coastal protected areas
with coral reefs. These areas are: Florida Keys National Marine
Sanctuary (Florida), Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (American
Samoa), Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (Texas), Gray's Reef
National Marine Sanctuary (Georgia), and Jobos Bay National Estuarine
Research Reserve (Puerto Rico).
- Grants to U.S. Islands for Coral Conservation: This
month, the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior will
award more than $170,000 in grants for coral conservation projects in
American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. The grants will support a
wide-range of local-level projects to protect coral reefs, including
education, monitoring, restoration and research.
- New Funds Available for Coral Conservation Projects:
NOAA will announce the availability of $150,000 to support projects that
build public-private partnerships for coral reef conservation. Funds will
support projects that build partnerships to address critical threats to
coral reefs through local-level actions.
- "First of Its Kind" Coral Reef Map Unveiled: A new
map of the extensive Florida Keys Coral Reef system will be unveiled today
by NOAA. Produced with the state of Florida, the new electronic map
offers unprecedented detail and information on the distribution of
habitats and species within this diverse coral reef system. "Benthic
Habitats of the Florida Keys" is the first in a series of maps which will
eventually provide critical information on all of the nation's coral
reefs. The map is especially useful to resource managers and researchers
to help guide wise management decisions and provide the baseline for
identifying future changes in the reef community.
- Increased Protection for U.S. Coral Reefs: NOAA's
National Marine Fisheries Service is currently considering a decision by
the Caribbean Regional Fishery Management Council to establish one of the
first and largest coral reef reserves in the Caribbean. The reserve was
established to help protect coral reefs that provide essential habitat for
impor-tant fisheries species. If approved, the reserve is expected to be
fully established in 1999.
- Joint Efforts to Protect Pristine Coral Reefs: To
help provide long-term protection for pristine portions of the Florida
Keys Coral Reef, the third largest barrier reef system in the world, the
Commerce Department announced joint efforts with the Department of the
Interior to conduct a site characterization of the Dry Tortugas coral reef
area. Comprehensive evaluation of the shallow and deep water coral reef
communities will help determine future management options for the area,
including possible establishment of ecological reserves.
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.