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The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force voted to begin the planning process for an International Year of the Reef in 2008 on Friday as it wrapped up a two-day business meeting in St. Thomas. The task force called on researchers and coral reef managers to use the year to increase global awareness of the economic, ecological and cultural value of coral reefs and to improve commitments to protect and sustain these threatened and valuable ecosystems. The action followed approval last week by over 45 nations and organizations of the International Coral Reef Initiative to support the idea, roughly 10 years after the first International Year of the Reef in 1997.
The task force also passed a resolution aimed at increasing public-private conservation partnerships, calling for enhanced on-the-ground habitat conservation and public awareness through improved joint funding and action with the private sector. The resolution addresses priorities laid out in Presidential Executive Order 13352 on Cooperative Conservation.
“Over the past few days, we have heard from an impressive array of experts about the opportunities and solutions for improving coral reef management through cooperative action in the U.S. Caribbean and beyond,” said Kameran Onley, Task Force co-chair and assistant deputy secretary of the interior. “The International Year of the Reef and our cooperative conservation initiative are important opportunities to expand collaborative management and problem-solving with more partners and communities for real on-the-ground conservation solutions.”
The 16th biannual meeting of the task force highlighted the ecological and management challenges facing Caribbean reefs, focusing on innovative solutions and partnership opportunities for achieving measurable results in a region hard hit by decades of human and natural impacts. Two-thirds of Caribbean reefs are considered significantly degraded by overfishing, pollution, diseases, bleaching and other impacts. More than 116 million people live within 60 miles of the coast in the Caribbean region, which depends on reef ecosystems for food, jobs, tourism, storm protection and other services valued at over $4 billion per year.
“Given the range of impacts facing most Caribbean reefs, we must focus on helping coral reefs survive simultaneous threats,” said Timothy Keeney, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and task force co-chair. “There is a clear need for pragmatic, science-based strategies to help managers reduce these impacts and build long-term reef resilience.”
According to the World Resources Institute, future economic losses due to Caribbean reef degradation are estimated at $350 to $870 million per year as a result of reduced habitat for fish and shellfish, diminished appeal for tourists, and a diminished capacity of reefs to protect the shoreline from storms.
After hearing from local managers on the state of coral reef conservation in six jurisdictions across the U.S. and international Caribbean, two expert panels made recommendations to the task force on priorities for future research and management activities.
Researchers from NOAA, the National Park Service and the United States Geological Survey presented the final results of a region-wide study of the impacts of last fall’s devastating coral bleaching event, the worst on record in the Caribbean. Results indicate that 90 percent of reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands bleached during the event, leading to disease outbreaks and over 40 percent mortality throughout the jurisdiction.
Ten U.S. Coral Reef Task Force awards were presented to organizations or individuals for outstanding outreach and education, management, scientific advancement of knowledge, and community-level participation. Two of these individuals were presented with special awards for their contributions to the conservation and management of coral reefs.
Judge Craig Manson, former assistant secretary of the interior, was recognized for his four years of leadership and service as co-chair of the task force. Edward Towle, Ph.D., long-time Caribbean conservationist and one of the United Nations Environment Programme’s “Global 500,” was posthumously recognized for his lifelong commitment to protecting and restoring small island environments.
The task force sponsored seven public workshops to enhance exchange of information, research findings and tools applicable to the Caribbean. Topics included the status of Caribbean reefs; how local managers can utilize the "Reef Manager’s Guide to Coral Bleaching; effective responses to physical damage events; sustainable tourism practices; a Caribbean “decision support system”; effective grant-writing; and an update on the status of staghorn and elkhorn corals, which were listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act earlier this year.
Presidential Executive Order 13089 established the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force in 1998 to lead U.S. efforts to preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems. Through the coordinated efforts of its members, including representatives of 12 federal agencies, the governors of seven states and territories, and the leaders of the Freely Associated States, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force ffhas helped advance U.S. efforts to protect and manage valuable coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. and internationally. NOAA and Department of the Interior co-chair the task force.
On the Web:
Department of the Interior: http://www.interior.gov
Coral Reef Task Force: http://www.coralreef.gov