New NOAA coral reef reports
Jim.Hendee at noaa.gov
Fri Sep 27 12:14:53 EDT 2002
CONTACT: David Miller, NOAA FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(202) 482-6090 September 26, 2002
NOAA RELEASES FIRST NATIONAL STUDY OF U.S. CORAL REEFS
New Report Highlights Key Actions and Addresses Threats
The first-ever national assessment of the condition of U.S. coral reefs
was released today by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The report identifies the
pressures that pose increasing risks to reefs, particularly in certain
"hot spots" located near population centers. The report also assesses
the health of reef resources, ranks threats in 13 geographic areas, and
details mitigation efforts.
Led by NOAA's National Ocean Service, the 265-page report, The State of
Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated
States, was developed by 38 coral reef experts and 79 expert
contributors. Prepared under the auspices of the U.S. Coral Reef Task
Force, the report establishes a baseline that will now be used for
biennial reports on the health of U.S. coral reefs. NOAA has also
released A National Coral Reef Strategy, a report to Congress outlining
specific action to address 13 major goals, including continuing mapping
and monitoring, to safeguard reefs. The reports will be highlighted when
the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meets on October 2-3, in San Juan, Puerto
Co-chaired by the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of the
Interior, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force was established in 1998 to help
lead U.S. efforts to address the coral reef crisis. It includes the
heads of 11 federal agencies and governors of seven states, territories
NOAA scientists have already achieved a scientific milestone in mapping
coral reefs. Working with public and private partners in Puerto Rico
and the U.S. Virgin Islands, they successfully mapped coral ecosystems
around those islands using a novel 26-category classification system and
"The new classification is a vital management tool that tells us where
the reefs are, what lives on them, and what relationships may be to
neighboring habitats and human activities," said retired Navy Vice Adm.
Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and
atmosphere and NOAA administrator. 'We now have a complete snapshot of
the U.S. Caribbean region, a clear, consistent baseline for future
mapping, and a solid model to implement good management in other
The mapping process developed in the U.S. Caribbean is currently being
applied in Hawaii, and then Guam, American Samoa and other U.S.
territories with coral reefs.
Clear action is needed because an estimated 27 percent of the world's
shallow water coral reefs may already be beyond recovery. An estimated
66 percent are now severely degraded. Craig Manson, assistant secretary
for fish and wildlife and parks, Department of the Interior, called
release of the first national study of U.S. coral reefs "an important
first report card on the health of U.S. reefs. It's a valuable tool for
raising public awareness about the global decline of these unique
treasures," he said.
The report indicates that, in all areas, some U.S. reefs are in good to
excellent health. But it also states that every U.S. reef system is
suffering from both human and natural disturbances. U.S. reefs share
problems with reefs globally, especially the effects of rapidly growing
coastal populations. Over 10.5 million people now live in U.S. coastal
areas adjacent to shallow coral reefs. Every year, 45 million people
visit these areas.
While natural environmental pressures such as temperature, sea-level
changes, diseases and storms have shaped coral reefs for at least
thousands of years, human-induced pressures are now also taking their
toll. Coastal pollution, coastal development and runoff, and
destructive fishing practices are among the top-ranked threats. These
are followed by ship groundings, diseases, changing climate, trade in
coral and live reef species, alien species, marine debris, harmful
tourist activity and tropical storms.
Overall, Florida and the U.S. Caribbean were found to be in the poorest
condition, mainly because of nearby dense populations and the effects of
hurricanes, disease, overfishing and a proliferation of algae. Live
coral cover in the Florida Keys has declined 37 percent over the past
five years. Of 31 coral reef fishery stocks in federal waters, 23 are
overfished in the U.S. Caribbean. Coral disease is especially high in
the Caribbean, where over 90 percent of the once abundant longspine sea
urchins died in the early 1980s. Vital in keeping coral from being
overgrown and killed by algae, they have since recovered to just 10
percent of their original numbers off the coasts of Florida, Puerto Rico
and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 20 years, white-band disease has killed
nearly all the elkhorn and staghorn corals off the coasts of St. Croix,
Puerto Rico and southeast Florida.
The report also details coral reef conditions in the Flower Garden Banks
of the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico, Nassau, the Hawaiian Archipelago,
American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana islands
and the Pacific Freely Associated States (Republic of the Marshall
Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau).
As ancient animals, corals evolved into modern reef-building forms over
the last 25 million years. Today these living forms are earth's largest
biological structures. They are essential sources of food, jobs,
chemicals, shoreline protection and life-saving pharmaceuticals.
Tourism in U.S. coral reef areas generates over $17 billion annually.
Commercial fishing generates an additional $246.9 million annually. In
South Florida alone, reefs support 44,500 jobs, providing a total annual
income of $1.2 billion.
Data and other information derived from NOAA's coral reef efforts are
now available at CoRIS, a new Coral Reef Information System Web site
that provides a single point of access for nearly 20,000 aerial photos,
navigational charts, photo mosaics, monitoring reports, professional
exchanges and much more. The CoRIS Web site is at
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. To learn more about NOAA please
visit http://www.noaa.gov. The new reports are available at
http://www.coralreef.noaa.gov and through CoRIS. Digital map products
available on CD-ROM and at http://biogeo.nos.noaa.gov.
For directions on subscribing and unsubscribing to coral-list or the
digests, please see http://www.coral.noaa.gov/lists/coral-list.html .
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