NOAA DOI Coral Reef Task Force Meeting
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Linda Taylor
10/22/99

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT, NOAA TO HOST CORAL REEF MEETING IN ST.CROIX
Action plans to be presented for restoration, protection, monitoring of coral reef resources

Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt will be in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, on November 2 and 3 to co-chair the third meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. The meeting will be held at the Tamarind Reef Hotel in Christiansted. Also co-chairing the meeting will be Dr. D. James Baker, Under Secretary of Commerce and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"The Virgin Islands' spectacular coral reefs are as important to the economy above the water as they are to the health of underwater environment," Secretary Babbitt said." They are responsible for building and protecting the beautiful beaches that attract millions of tourists each year, sustaining fisheries and saving countless human lives and dollars by protecting the islands from catastrophic hurricane damage."

The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force was created by executive order signed June 11, 1998, by President Clinton. The order directs all federal agencies to protect coral reef ecosystems to the extent feasible and tells agencies to come up with coordinated, science-based plans to restore damaged reefs, both in the United States and around the globe. Federal agencies work closely with representatives from territorial, commonwealth and state governments, recognizing that more than 90 percent of coral reef resources under U.S. protection are located in their waters. Other members of the Task Force include researchers, commercial interests, and non-governmental organizations.

"Coral reefs are the rain forests of the sea. They are home to nearly a million species of marine life and have become an increasingly important source of new medicines," Dr. Baker said." They are also the foundation of important tourism and fisheries economies. However, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world's coral reefs are seriously threatened, and that is why this meeting and initiative are so important."

In June, 1998, when President Clinton signed the executive order at the National Ocean Conference in Monterey, Calif., he noted that "10 percent of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed and another 30 percent will all but disappear within 30 years."

This is the third meeting of the Coral Reef Task Force. The first took place in Florida in December, 1998, and the second in Hawaii in June, 1999. The third meeting will focus on an action plan for future coral reef-related protection, monitoring and restoration activities of the Departments of Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, Justice, Defense, Transportation, and State; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Agency for International Development, the National Science Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Secretary Babbitt and Dr. Baker hope to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) before the Coral Reef Task Force Meeting gets underway. The MOU involves the establishment of a marine research and education laboratory in St. Croix with a consortium of universities. All activities are open to the media. The tentative schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, November 2 - approximately 9:30 a.m.: Governor Turnbull, Secretary Babbitt, Dr. Baker, media board National Park Service Boats leaving from the Buccaneer Hotel dock for a trip to Salt River Bay showing reef ecosystems. A stop will be made, if possible, near the potential site of the marine research laboratory involving the University of the Virgin Islands, Rutgers University, the University of North Carolina - Wilmington and the University of South Carolina. The boats will proceed further toward Salt River Bay to a site within the proposed Salt River Marine Ecological Park and Preserve for a briefing with Secretary Babbitt and Governor Turnbull. Following the tour, boats will return to the hotel.

Tuesday, November 2, 11:30 a.m.: Press conference at the Tamarind Reef Hotel (Room number to be determined) on the Coral Reef Task Force meeting, action plan and related coral reef issues. Rep. Donna Christen-Christenson, Secretary Babbitt, DrBaker and others.

Tuesday, November 2, 1:30 p.m.: Opening statements by Secretary Babbitt and Dr. Baker to members of the U.S. Coral Reef Task ForceTamarind Reef Hotel - Marina Conference Center. Over 200 people from around the world are expected to attend.

The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting is open to the media. It will be held in the Marina Conference Center at the Tamarind Reef Hotel. The Task Force will meet from 1:30 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 2, and from 9:00.m. until noon on Wednesday, November 3. Closing remarks by Secretary Babbitt and Dr. Baker will likely be given about 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday.