Coral Reef Task Force National Action Plan and Meeting

Jack Sobel JSobel at DCCMC.ORG
Sat Feb 26 12:48:07 EST 2000

The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force will adopt its National Action Plan to
Conserve Coral Reefs on March 2, 2000 at its meeting in Washington, DC.  The
Center for Marine Conservation has drafted the following/attached letter,
which we plan to present publicly at that meeting.  The purpose of this
letter is to congratulate the task force for some good work done to date, to
encourage them to strengthen those areas that need further strengthening, to
challenge Congress and the next Administration to join in the fight to
protect coral reefs, and to engage the American public in supporting this
effort.  Our purpose in posting this on the Coral-list Server is to share
our views on this with the science and research community, get feedback from
others on them, and encourage scientists, researchers, and others to share
their views with the Administration's Coral Reef Task Force.  If you
respresent an organization, share our views, and are interested in joining
with us on this letter, please contact Doug Obegi by email at
dobegi at or Doug or myself by phone at (202) 429-5609 no later than
Tuesday, February 29th.  We also greatly appreciate any respectful feedback
or suggestions regarding the Coral Reef Task Force, the National Action
Plan, or the letter below.

March 2, 2000

The Honorable Bruce Babbit
Co-Chair, Coral Reef Task Force
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W., Room 6151
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dr. D. James Baker
Co-Chair, Coral Reef Task Force
U.S. Department of Commerce
14th and Constitution Avenue NW, Room 5128
Washington, D.C. 20230

On March 2, the Clinton Administration will unveil a landmark plan to
protect our nation's and the world's endangered coral reefs.  This
first-ever National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs marks a bold first
step.  Stimulated by the President's 1998 Coral Reef Executive Order and
developed over two years by the Coral Reef Task Force (CRTF) the Executive
Order created, the plan clearly identifies the tremendous values of coral
reefs, the extraordinary threats facing them, and the urgent need to
conserve them.  Furthermore, it identifies key strategies, core principles,
and priority actions to halt and reverse their decline.  The Administration
and the Task Force deserve praise for their valuable work to date, and we
must ensure that it was not done in vain.

To deliver on the plan's promise of protecting these vital habitats for
future generations, the American public, the Administration, and the
Congress must build on the leadership demonstrated in drafting this plan
throughout the difficult task of implementing its noteworthy vision.  The
plan provides an appropriately strong vision and identifies the correct
broad strategies, but it will require strengthening some of these
strategies, fleshing out details, and the provision of adequate resources to
be successful.   The following elements are particularly deserving of
emphasis and broad public support in either their current form or with
additional strengthening as discussed below: 

1.	Fully protect at least 20% of the nation's coral reefs from
extractive uses by the year 2010- One of the strongest elements of the plan
sets a goal to permanently protect at least 20% of all U.S. coral reefs in
marine reserve or  "no-take" protected areas by the year 2010, with specific
interim benchmarks to measure progress.  Such a marine protected area
network would be based on scientific analyses and stakeholder input to
devise fair and equitable solutions that provide the greatest benefits to
the nation while recognizing regional and local concerns.  Recent progress
on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve in Florida and the Red Hind Marine
Conservation Area in the USVI indicate that such an approach will be
successful, but adequate resources and commitment must be provided.

2.	Reduce pollution and habitat destruction- The emphasis on these
threats in the plan is warranted, but unfortunately, the plan does not
provide similarly tangible protection goals or benchmarks for measuring
success as the above element.. The public should demand and the Task Force
commit to implementing more concrete measures aimed at reducing these
threats, particularly nutrient and sediment pollution from both point
sources and polluted runoff.

3.	Improve mapping and monitoring of coral reefs- Better mapping of
coral reef ecosystems and monitoring of their condition would provide the
underpinnings for improved conservation and measuring success.  The plan
includes a number of worthwhile elements in this regard ranging from
improved coral reef habitat mapping for both Caribbean and Pacific regions
to low cost volunteer monitoring programs that involve divers and others in
assessing reef conditions (such as the RECON project) to biennial reports on
the State of American Coral Reef Ecosystems.

4.	Manage coral harvesting and end destructive collecting practices-
The plan directs the U.S. to reduce the unsustainable commercial extraction
of reef resources and its resultant habitat destruction.  The U.S. will
restrict commercial collection of coral and "live rock" throughout U.S.
waters and phase-in a ban on the use of cyanide in collecting reef products.
However, because of the critical importance of coral and "live rock" to the
vitality of coral reef ecosystems, the task force should consider whether a
comprehensive ban on commercial collecting would be more appropriate.

5.	Increase funding for coral reef conservation- The action plan does
not address specific funding needs to ensure its success, but it is clear
that substantially increased funding will be necessary to achieve its goals.
The Administration has requested some increased funding in its FY2001 budget
for this purpose and these should be provided, but even these increases are
small with respect to both the value of our coral reef resources and the
severity of their plight.  The public, Congress, and the Administration
should support much higher levels of funding to ensure the plan's success. 

The National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs puts the United States on a
path towards ensuring a representative portion of these habitats are
permanently protected, that all U.S. reefs are better managed and conserved,
and that the U.S. leads international conservation efforts.  

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse, valuable, and vulnerable marine
habitats on the earth.  Tens of thousands of species have been identified on
coral reefs, and estimates suggest that coral reefs may be home to more than
nine million species of plants and animals.  Over half of all managed
fishery species in the United States spend important parts of their lives on
or around coral reefs.  Some of the most promising biotechnological
innovations in the future may come from coral reef species.  Tourism,
commercial and subsistence fishing, and the "intangible" benefits of reefs,
such as the protection of coastal communities and ports from storms, provide
economic benefits estimated to be in excess of $375 billion per year

Yet coral reefs worldwide, like those in the United States, are extremely
vulnerable and in danger of being destroyed.  Water pollution from oil
spills, sewage outfalls, and nonpoint source pollution; overfishing;
overexploitation for commercial trade in coral reef products and from
biotechnological collecting; habitat destruction from fishing gear, ship
groundings and anchoring; and coral bleaching from rising global water
temperatures all threaten coral reefs.  Approximately 10% of the world's
reefs have already been destroyed, and an additional 60% are threatened with
destruction in the next 50 years.  

We commend this Administration for its leadership in adopting a
precautionary approach to coral reef conservation. But the "real" work, for
this Administration as well as those who come after it, will be in the
plan's implementation.  This depends upon two critical factors.  First, the
Congress must appropriate adequate funding, beginning this year, to carry
out this plan.  Coral reefs cannot be saved by plans alone.  And second,
this and the next Administration must remain committed to continuing the
work now begun.  We have laid out an ambitious and indispensable plan of
action for the next ten years: now we must carry it out.

 <<CRTF group letter (FINAL2).rtf>>   

Jack A. Sobel, Director
Ecosystem Program
Center for Marine Conservation
1725 DeSales St. NW, Suite #600
Washington, DC  20036
Business Phone:  (202) 429-5609 / (202) 857-3270
Business Fax:  (202) 872-0619
Email:  jsobel at
 <<Jack Sobel.vcf>> 
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