NOAA 99-R421
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Colleen Angeles
11/3/99

NOAA AND PARTNERS LAUNCH FIRST-EVER NATION-WIDE EFFORT TO MAP ALL U.S. CORAL REEFS
NOAA estimates that less than 10 percent of the nation's coral reefs have been adequately mapped and characterized to determine their current condition.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has joined together
with other members of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to develop the nation's
first comprehensive set of digital maps for all U.S. coral reef habitats by 2007.
The new maps will create accurate baselines for long-term monitoring, illustrate
trends in reef health over time, characterize habitats, and enhance scientific
understanding of large-scale oceanographic and ecological processes affecting
reefs. This information will support development of a national network of coral
reef marine protected areas, identify priority areas for monitoring and strengthen
coral reef conservation, protection and management.

Coral reef mapping has been underway for one year in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and will be initiated in the main eight Hawaiian Islands in March 2000. Using a suite of remote sensing technologies, including satellite, aircraft, ship, and underwater data-collection platforms, maps will be produced to address locally identified conservation needs, with emphasis on identifying gaps in coral reef marine protected areas.

"Mapping of our nation's coral reefs is essential to our understanding and conservation of this valuable ecosystem. Through the Task Force we have implemented a comprehensive mapping plan to conduct this work," said Dr. D. James Baker, NOAA administrator. "Collectively, our scientists and partners have the expertise and technology to better map and monitor all U.S. coral reefs. What we need now is funding to support mapping studies throughout the United States."

NOAA will utilize the new maps as a springboard for launching efforts to build a national network of marine protected areas. Working with the Department of Interior, other federal and state agencies and non-federal partners, NOAA will integrate coral reef mapping data into a geo-spatially-referenced database. This database will include descriptions of reef habitats, human activities, socio-economic conditions, management capabilities, and level of protection in coral reef protected areas.

Using the database, NOAA will help link existing reef protected areas and conduct a "gap" analysis to identify priority areas to monitor and possible additions to the new network. The "gaps" identified will serve as the basis to set national and regional priorities for establishing new coral reef protected areas and will support improvement of existing management policies. Throughout this public process, it will be essential that all stakeholders at local, regional and national levels are included in setting priorities and making decisions for coral reef protection.

These coral reef initiatives – a nation-wide map of all U.S. coral reefs and the development of a national network of marine protected areas – were initiated by members of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force in response to the President's Executive Order for Coral Reef Protection to conserve and protect U.S. coral reef ecosystems.

For more information concerning NOAA's coral reef mapping efforts visit http://biogeo.nos.noaa.gov/benthicmap/caribbean. Additional information on the Coral Reef Task Force meeting is available at http://www.coralreef.gov or contact the NOAA Public Affairs office at (202) 482-5647.