NOAA 2002-161
Contact: Bob Hopkins
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Joins Officials for Unveiling of Biennial Global Coral Reef Report

In a ceremony today at the World Bank, NOAA Administrator, retired Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., joined United States and international officials and experts to release the findings of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network’s (GCRMN) biennial publication, Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2002. The coral reef status report is the third in a series of biennial updates on the status of coral reefs worldwide. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the Commerce Department, led the U.S. effort to provide data on U.S. reefs to this new report. NOAA manages U.S. coral reefs that comprise approximately 2 percent of the world’s coral reefs, including the third largest barrier reef in the world, the Florida Keys, and the second largest reef protected area in the world, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve (1200 miles long).

“NOAA is proud to play an active role in international coral reef management and protection and I am pleased to participate in the release of the 2002 Status of Coral Reefs of the World report,” said Admiral Lautenbacher. “The contributions from these reports not only provide valuable information on the condition of the world’s valuable reef ecosystems, but also track the effectiveness of past and current actions, enabling managers to develop more effective reef management practices in the future.”

The report, edited by Dr. Clive Wilkinson of the GCRMN, includes input from 151 authors from over 80 countries. This year’s report outlines the mounting pressures facing coral reefs and the status of these threatened ecosystems in regions throughout the world. It also highlights the growing efforts by many international agencies to conserve reefs.

“The U.S., through the State Department and NOAA, have provided vital information and resources to make this global coral reef status report possible,” said Dr. Wilkinson. “NOAA is providing global leadership and technology in producing regular ‘Hot Spot’ reports that enables tracking of potential sea surface temperature anomolies and also in satellite mapping of coral reefs in the Pacific and Caribbean. This capability provides the big picture’ assessment that can then be followed up with on-the-ground verification.”

Lautenbacher noted that NOAA worked with all of our federal partners on the Coral Reef Task Force to develop the first biennial national report card on U.S. coral reefs, published in September, 2002. The report identifies the pressures that pose increasing risks to reefs, particularly in certain “hot spots” located near population centers. The report also assesses the health of reef resources, ranks threats in 13 geographic areas, and details mitigation efforts. The 265-page report, The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States, was produced by over 100 authors and contributors and formed the basis for information on the status of U.S. reefs in the global reef report.

Prepared under the auspices of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, co-chaired by the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force was established in 1998 to help lead U.S. efforts to address the coral reef crisis. It includes the heads of 11 federal agencies and governors of seven states, territories and commonwealths.

NOAA scientists have already achieved a scientific milestone in mapping coral reefs. Working with public and private partners in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, they successfully mapped coral ecosystems around those islands using a novel 26-category classification system and mapping process.

The mapping process developed in the U.S. Caribbean is currently being applied in Hawaii, and then Guam, American Samoa and other U.S. territories with coral reefs.

“The new classification is a vital management tool that tells us where the reefs are, what lives on them, and what relationships may be to neighboring habitats and human activities,” Lautenbacher said. “We now have a complete snapshot of the U.S. Caribbean region, a clear, consistent baseline for future mapping, and a solid model to implement good management in other regions.”

Just last month Deputy Secretary of Commerce Sam Bodman joined with shipping industry representatives to announce that NOAA has taken historic steps through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to create the first U.S. zone to protect coral from anchors, groundings and collisions from large international ships. The zone, known as the Florida Keys’ Particularly Sensitive Sea Area, is more than 3,000 square nautical miles and is one of only five such areas in the world.

“This rare international form of protection now awarded to fragile Florida Keys coral reefs is an example of how federal resource managers can work closely with industry to protect vulnerable natural resources while simultaneously supporting shipping and economic growth,” Bodman said at the announcement. “This protective status makes the international shipping community aware of the coral reefs and increases compliance with domestic measures already in place to protect the area, while not hindering trade and commerce.”

Starting Dec. 1, ships greater than 50 meters (164 feet) in length transiting the zone will be held to internationally accepted and enforceable rules. The rules direct ship captains to avoid certain areas within the zone altogether and abide by three no-anchoring areas within the zone. All nautical charts produced worldwide will now show the Florida Particularly Sensitive Sea Area and address these protective measures. More than 40 percent of the world’s commerce passes through the Florida Straits each year. Ten large ship groundings have occurred in the zone since 1984 and coral damage by rogue anchoring by large ships or freighters has occurred 17 times since 1997.

NOAA also recently announced a new Internet site designed as a single point of access for information on coral reefs. The site, the Coral Reef Information System, or CoRIS, provides data and information derived from NOAA programs and projects. The site provides access to 19,000 aerial photos, 400 preview navigational charts, tide stations, paleoclimatological studies, photo mosaics, coral reef monitoring, bleaching reports, and other information. Before CoRIS, users faced an array of more than 50 NOAA coral reef Web sites.

Corals are now a cross-cutting theme throughout NOAA, and the recent “National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs” calls on NOAA and its Coral Reef Task Force partners to reduce or eliminate the most destructive human-derived threats to coral reefs. The plan describes nine long-range, far-reaching strategies to address these threats:

  • Expand and strengthen the network of coral reef protected areas and reserves;
  • Reduce the adverse impacts of extractive uses such as overfishing;
  • Reduce habitat destruction;
  • Reduce pollution such as marine debris;
  • Restore damaged reefs;
  • Reduce global threats to reefs;
  • Reduce impacts of international trade of coral reef resources;
  • Improve interagency accountability and coordination; and
  • Inform the public.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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