U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Calls for Cooridated Efforts to Avoid Adverse Impacts on Reefs; Launches Local Strategy Implementation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MIAMI – The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force called for improved interagency coordination to avoid adverse coral reef impacts during spawning season, and for the establishment of interagency working groups to develop standard mitigation protocols and best management practices, as they wrapped up a two-day meeting today in Miami.
“It is critical we strengthen efforts to insure the conservation of these marine resources,” said Timothy Keeney, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and Task Force co-chair. “As the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy notes, healthy coral reefs support millions of dollars in economic activities in U.S. coastal communities and hold tremendous potential for pharmaceutical and medicinal products that can address human health needs. The actions we took today will help implement that conservation.”
The Task Force passed two resolutions during its 12th biannual meeting. The first recognized that corals are the primary reef builders that create habitat for tens of thousands of species of plant and animal life, and that as such their spawning periods are vital to their continued survival and those of the plants and animals who use the reefs as habitat.
The Task Force called on all federal agencies conducting activities in coastal waters adjacent to or on coral reefs to assess activity impacts on coral reproduction and life cycles. It further called for development of additional forecasts of coral spawning events to help avoid impacts on coral reproduction.
The second resolution called for the establishment of interagency working groups – federal, state and territories – to develop and “implement a more effective and efficient mitigation process for coral reef ecosystems.” This effort is another step which reflects the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s call for better coordination of ocean resource management. The Task Force further called for “fully considering support for the interagency working groups as a high priority for funding in applicable areas.”
In addition to the resolutions, a major outcome of the meeting was the full-scale launch of “Three-Year Local Action Strategies” in each of seven Task Force jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction has spent the past year developing these local strategies to translate national priorities into measurable local projects.
White House Council of Environmental Quality chairman, James L. Connaughton, brought good news to this effort announcing that President Bush will request $2.7 million to support state and local coral conservation efforts to implement the strategies.
“Better coordination of environmental efforts is always worthwhile,” said Marshall Jones, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Task Force is adopting a policy we know will lead to concrete improvements in how we protect our reefs.”
Local Action Strategies have been developed to bring the goals of the National US. Coral Reef Action Plan to the local level. They seek to address six priority threats to corals: over-fishing, land-based sources of pollution, recreational overuse and misuse, lack of public awareness, climate change and coral bleaching, and disease.
“The implementation of these local action strategies has allowed the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force agencies to identify local needs, connect local priorities to national goals and better coordinate agency action in support of those efforts,” noted Roger Griffis, coordinator of NOAA’s coral reef conservation program.
The seven jurisdictions impacted by these plans are Florida, Hawaii, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The two-day public meeting featured an expert panel on building resilience in reef ecosystems in south Florida; a presentation on Australia’s latest reef management efforts; and updates on key forthcoming reports including the State of U.S. Reefs, Reefs at Risk, and recent report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.
On the meetings opening day, two events highlighted the ongoing cooperation of U.S. agencies and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). First, GBRMPA posthumously honored Nancy Foster, longtime NOAA scientist and administrator, with the naming of a section of the world’s largest coral reef in her honor. Foster served in a variety of positions during a 23-year NOAA career, and is only the second American to receive the naming recognition. The other American honoree was famed ecologist Rachel Carson in 1996.
The second U.S.-Australian announcement was that of a partnership between NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP), the State of Florida and the GBRMPA to improve coral reef resilience. Resilience is the natural ability of corals to survive and recover from stresses in the natural environment.
"This unprecedented partnership reinforces Florida's commitment to protecting and restoring coral reefs,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Colleen M. Castille. "Sharing the latest science expands our ability to accelerate global research and improve water quality, wildlife habitat and the resiliency of reefs worldwide."
A series of workshop symposiums were also held in conjunction with the formal business meeting. These workshops were designed to educate Task Force agencies and the interested public about Florida's coral reef threats and conservation successes, and to fuel support and involvement in local initiatives. The workshops were free and were attended by federal, state and territory agency representatives; Florida coral reef managers and researchers; national and local conservation organizations; and the interested local public.
Two individuals were presented with special “Coral Champion” awards for outstanding lifetime contributions to the conservation and management of coral reefs: Billy Causey, Superintendent for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and Joel Tutien, manager of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Coral Reef Monument.
The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force biannual meeting has been scheduled for March 2-3, 2005, in Washington, D.C.
Ten additional Coral Reef Task Force awards were presented to the following organizations or individuals in five categories:
A Presidential Executive Order established the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force in 1998 to lead U.S. efforts to preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems. Through the coordinated efforts of its members, including representatives of 12 federal agencies, the governors of seven states and territories, and the leaders of the Freely Associated States, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force has helped lead U.S. efforts to protect and manage valuable coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. and internationally. NOAA and Department of Interior co-chair the Task Force.
NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, 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.
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