NOAA 2000-Anchoring
Contact: Madelyn Appelbaum, Maureen O'Leary

NOAA Spearheads Plan to Safeguard Vital Marine Areas

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the world's governing body for international shipping issues, has given preliminary approval to a U.S. proposal to amend international shipping rules and allow countries to establish "no-anchoring" zones for large ships. "This is a historic step in international maritime law. Every country
now has the opportunity to safeguard both vessels and valuable marine environments, including coral reefs, which have experienced devastating harm from the anchors of large ships," said Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.

The IMO's Subcommittee on Safety of Navigation also initially approved a U.S. proposal to establish three "no-anchoring areas" to protect the fragile coral reefs of our nation's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northwest sector of the Gulf of Mexico. Numerous commercial ships anchor in this area before or after entering major shipping ports in Texas and Louisiana.

"This is a critical move forward. The world's coral reefs are in crisis. Two-thirds may be
dying and an alarming 70 percent could be gone by the year 2050. Dragging heavy anchors over coral reefs makes this crisis worse. Large sections of reef, perhaps thousands of years old, can be crushed in minutes and lost forever," said D. James Baker, NOAA administrator.

Baker called coral reefs, "The medicine chests of the 21st century, offering exciting promise of life-saving and other critical pharmaceuticals." Coral reefs also protect
coastlines, support millions of U.S. jobs, and contribute billions of dollars in U.S. economic activity through tourism, recreation, and fishing. The annual dockside value of commercial U.S. fisheries from coral reefs exceeds $100 million.

Developed by NOAA, and supported by the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies, both proposals will be forwarded to the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee for final consideration at its December meeting in London. NOAA worked closely with the shipping industry to reach a consensus on the proposals.

"The proposals make sense," says Kathy Metcalf, of the U.S. Chamber of Shipping which represents 18 U.S. based shipping companies. "It is imperative that the maritime industry support environmental protection initiatives that maintain the ability to continue efficient, effective and environmentally sound marine transportation."

The measures will help shippers steer clear of "no-anchoring areas" by requiring that all countries producing charts for international navigation mark such areas on their charts. The "no-anchoring" measures focus on prevention, instead of enforcement and liability for damages. Clearly marking the "no-anchoring" areas will help mariners increase compliance.