NOAA 2003-021
Contact: Glenda Tyson
NOAA News Releases 2003
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Representatives from various government agencies will take part in the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) meeting in Washington, D.C., Feb. 26-27, 2003, to discuss future projects and programs to improve conservation and management of coral reefs and to review accomplishments from 2002.

Co-chaired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Tim Keeney, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the interior, the meeting will be attended by heads of 11 federal agencies; governors of seven states, territories and commonwealths; and the presidents of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. Interior Secretary Gail Norton and Commerce Assistant Secretary James Mahoney will help open the meeting.

“It’s clear from the level of representation we have from around the nation and around the world that coral reefs and their continued protection are high priorities,” Keeney said. “The Coral Reef Task Force has been hard at work to pull together all possible resources to implement the U.S. National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs, and further the goal of safeguarding the world’s reefs.”

At the meeting, the USCRTF is announcing efforts to develop a comprehensive, integrated program for understanding local and system-wide coral reef responses to climate change, and the application of this improved understanding to local reef management. The Department of the Interior, NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency, along with other interested USCRTF members, are collaborating on this program.

Coral reefs are a critical focus for researching the impacts of climate change on ecosystems because empirical evidence suggests corals to be the first ecosystems to exhibit global-scale degradation as a result of rising global temperatures.

Coral bleaching has been clearly demonstrated to result from climatic effects and may already be serving as one of the earliest and strongest indicators of the impact of climate change on marine organisms.

Some of NOAA’s accomplishments noted at the meeting include:

  • partnering to complete comprehensive benthic habitat maps for 60 percent of the shallow reefs surrounding the main eight Hawaiian Islands, and 22 percent of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands
  • releasing a new satellite tool, coral bleaching Degree Heating Week Charts, to alert coral reef managers of accumulated thermal stress over coral reefs; and
  • continuing support for state and territory coral reef conservation and management.

“Reefs are a high priority because of their great economic and cultural value,” Keeney said. “Coral reefs are a source of food and income worldwide, serve as coastal protection structures, contribute major income and foreign exchange earnings from tourism, provide novel pharmaceutical compounds and serve as repositories for some of the greatest biological diversity in the world. Their protection has been and will remain a very high priority.”

In September 2002, NOAA and several partners released the first-ever biennial report on the condition of coral reefs, The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and the Pacific Freely Associated States: 2002. The report assesses the condition of reef resources, ranks the relative importance of environmental pressures that have degraded reefs, highlights significant actions taken by CRTF agencies to conserve coral reef ecosystems, and provides recommendations from coral reef managers to fill information gaps. This report is a baseline to which future assessments will be compared.

NOAA and the CRTF produced the National Coral Reef Action Strategy to fulfill the requirements of the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 and help track implementation of the National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs in 2002-2003. The report was delivered to Congress in September 2002. It includes goals and objectives, recent accomplishments, an implementation plan for addressing each of the National Action Plan’s 13 goals, an assessment of the major threats to reefs in each region, and a ranking of key actions needed in each region to address the major threats.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (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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