Interior Department on Front Lines of Coral Reef Conservation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Department of Interior is playing a key role in a science-based, community-level campaign to protect coral reefs and is working with a variety of state, territorial and international partners to increase understanding of the problems plaguing these sensitive ecosystems around the globe, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Craig Manson said today.
This week in Miami, scientists and coral reef managers from the department will join their counterparts from Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and six Pacific island jurisdictions to discuss the health of U.S. coral reefs and efforts to save them.
“Interior Department agencies are leading the way in efforts to deal with the crisis in our coral reefs,” said Manson, who is co-chair of the United States Coral Reef Task Force. “We have made significant progress in recent years but there is much to be done. We need a global effort to study and reverse the threats to these sensitive ecosystems.”
Coral reefs are storehouses of immense biological value that provide an estimated $375 billion each year to the world economy from recreation, tourism, food, pharmaceuticals, and other purposes. The benefits to Florida, for example, exceed $3 billion.
Coral reefs also protect our coastlines from storm damage and prevent erosion, a benefit for Floridians and coastal communities in the Pacific during hurricanes and typhoons. They also provide shelter and food for as many as 10 million animals and plants and are the oldest and largest structures made by living organisms on the planet. The same factors that make them so important make them vulnerable to over exploitation.
Five agencies within the Interior Department are working on the ground and underwater to monitor the health of coral reefs and enhance their protection. Much of the work is done collaboratively with local communities, state and territorial government agencies and academia to address threats to coral reef ecosystems.
National Park Service: In Florida, the National Park Service manages more than 800,000 acres of coral reefs and marine habitats in three National Parks. Biscayne National Park near Miami has joined forces with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to develop a joint Fisheries Management Plan that transcends boundaries to restore fish populations across the Park and state-managed areas. The National Park Service also put regulations in place to protect the new Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument and the expanded Buck Island Reef National Monument from anchoring and overfishing.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: National Wildlife Refuges protect approximately three million acres of coral reefs in Florida, the Caribbean, Hawaii and the Pacific. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has sponsored local watershed protection projects in the Pacific islands that reduce land-based sources of pollution to coral reefs, has provided funding to restore habitat for sea turtles and other endangered species, and developed a mitigation strategy that will help federal agencies restore U.S. coral reef resources affected by federally funded coastal construction projects.
U.S. Geological Survey: The USGS is conducting vital research to increase understanding of how coral reefs respond to threats such as sediment pollution, water quality impacts, coral diseases and global climate change. The USGS is determining causes of high levels of sedimentation on reefs in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. USGS scientists also are investigating the effects of global climate change on corals, including the ability of corals to resist increases in sea surface temperatures and intense ultraviolet radiation in the National Park of American Samoa.
Office of Insular Affairs: The Office of Insular Affairs provides technical and financial assistance to support management and protection of coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Pacific islands of Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where the majority of reefs under U.S. jurisdiction are located.
Minerals Management Service: Since the early 1970s, MMS has supported a comprehensive program of mapping, monitoring and protection for coral reefs of the East and West Flower Garden Banks, a National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. MMS used the information to develop lease stipulations for gas and oil exploration, development, and production near the Sanctuary that have been completely effective in preventing environmental impacts.
The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force was established by Presidential Executive Order in 1998 to focus federal, state, and territorial efforts on the major threats to the nation’s coral reefs, and finding ways to stem those threats. Craig Manson, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, co-chairs the Task Force on behalf of Interior Secretary Gale Norton, along with Tim Keeney, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at the Department of Commerce.
Americans can learn more about the importance of coral reefs to products that they value in their lives. The next time you purchase salt water fish for your aquarium, buy grouper or yellowfin tuna for dinner, or purchase a coral necklace for a loved one, think about where these resources originated. Buy products that were harvested in a responsible manner. Learn about coral reef products that are protected by international trade laws and don’t bring those products back into the U.S. from your vacation.
Visit the Coral Reef Task Force website at http://www.coralreef.gov. Or attend the public meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami on December 2 and 3.