July 9, 2008 — Nearly half of U.S. coral
reef ecosystems are considered to be in "poor" or "fair" condition
according to a new NOAA analysis of the health of coral reefs under
The report issued July 7, The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the
United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008, says that the
nation’s coral reef ecosystems, particularly those adjacent to
populated areas, continue to face intense human-derived threats from
coastal development, fishing, sedimentation and recreational use. Even
the most remote reefs are subject to threats such as marine debris,
illegal fishing and climate-related effects of coral bleaching, disease
and ocean acidification.
The report was released by NOAA at the 11th International Coral Reef
Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. More than 270 scientist and managers
working throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, the Atlantic and
Pacific authored the 15 jurisdiction-specific chapters of the report.
The scientists graded the coral ecosystems on a five tier scale:
excellent, good, fair, poor and unknown.
"NOAA’s coral program has made some significant progress since it
was established 10 years ago, but we need to redouble our efforts to
protect this critical resource," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad
C. Lautenbacher Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and
atmosphere and NOAA administrator.
The 569-page document details coral reef conditions in the U.S.
Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Navassa Island, southeast Florida, the
Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks, the Main Hawaiian Islands, the
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, the Pacific Remote
Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of
Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and
the Republic of Palau.
"The report shows that this is a global issue," said Tim Keeney,
deputy assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and
co-chair of the United States Coral Reef Task Force. "While the report
indicates reefs in general are healthier in the Pacific than the
Atlantic, even remote reefs are subject to threats stemming from
climate change as well as illegal fishing and marine debris."
The conditions of U.S. coral reefs have been declining for several
decades according to the report’s authors. As an indicator of this
decline, since the last status report was released in 2005, two coral
species — Elkhorn and Staghorn corals — have become the first corals
ever listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The 2008 report is the third in a series, representing an evolving
effort to track the condition of coral reef ecosystems at both local
and national scales. It was called for in the National Coral Reef
Action Strategy (NCRAS) and was designed to address the primary
threats, goals and objectives outlined in the NCRAS, the Coral Reef
Conservation Act of 2000, and other guid¬ance documents. NOAA’s Center
for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment’s Biogeography Branch led the
development and production of the report with support from NOAA’s Coral
Reef Conserva¬tion Program.
The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific
Freely Associated States: 2008 is available for free download at http://ccma.nos.noaa.gov/stateofthereefs.