Half of US coral reefs are in trouble

Posted: 7 July 2008

Nearly half of the coral reef ecosystems in the United States are in "poor" or "fair" condition, according to a new report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Our contributing editor. Henrylito Tacio, reports from the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The nation's coral reef ecosystems, particularly those adjacent to populated areas, continue to face intense human-derived threats, especia;lly those from development, fishing, sedimentation, and recreational use," said NOAA in a press statement released during the launching of the report here.

Diseased coral, Gulf of Mexico
Diseased coral, Gulf of Mexico
Winter plague-like coral disease at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: FGBNMS/Schmahl.
The report, The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008, was issued during the first day of the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS).

More than 270 scientists and managers, working throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, the Atlantic and Pacific, authored the 15-jurisdiction specific chapters of the 569-page document. The scientists graded the coral ecosystems on a five tier scale: excellent, good, fair, poor, and unknown.

Global issue

"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 US 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 declining conditions of the US coral reefs didn't happen overnight, the experts make clear. Snce the last status report was released in 2005, two coral species - Elkhorn and Staghorn corals - have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. "We need to redouble our efforts to protect this critical resource," urged retired navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., NOAA Administrator. For further details, visit the website of NOAA at www.noaa.gov. The report can be accessed from the Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment