Biologically, coral reefs are the second most productive systems in the world after tropical rainforests. They are home to a colorful array of over several thousand species of fish and other marine organisms. This intricate environment is essential to many marine and coastal species. To human populations, their value is inestimable. Communities across the globe rely on their resources for sustenance and economic growth. Their potential yield in fish is estimated at nine million tons„about 12% of the world total. In the Pacific islands, up to 90% of protein consumption comes from marine sources. And on average in developing nations world-wide, coral reefs account for 25% of the fish catch. Adding to this, burgeoning population concentration in coastal zones has greatly increased the demand on reef resources world-wide. This massive human demand on coral reefs has increased the level of stress within these fragile ecosystems. The anthropogenic destruction of reefs is caused primarily by marine pollution, unsound fishing practices, coral collection for trade and direct physical damage. World-wide, approximately 10% of all reefs have degraded beyond recovery, and if current practices go unchecked it is estimated that 20-30% of the resource could be destroyed within the next 10-20 years. Developing nations stand at the greatest risk of losing reefs because of their dependence on reef resources and in some cases less stringent or non-existent environmental regulations.
The CRI will attempt to address this problem on a global scale as an international partnership of concerned nations. Here in the U.S. the implementation of the initiative will depend on four strategies-building partnerships; coordination; integration; and capacity-building. The development of partnerships between nations, regional/international organizations, federal, state, territorial and commonwealth agencies, NGO's, scientists and the public will work to provide the most effective conservation of these ecosystems. CRI can then coordinate existing and new activities among all participants to ensure the most effective use of the resources. The impetus will also ensure that critical ecosystem components are taken into account, and that research, assessment, monitoring, and management are considered in a comprehensive manner. And lastly, the CRI will strengthen technical and human resources in developing countries for effective management of coral reefs, through education, training and infrastructure development.
The U.S. State Department has the lead for coordinating the effort, with NOAA playing a major role as well as the Department of Interior , the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the EPA. OCRM's National Research coordinator, Dr. Michael Crosby, is a member of the U.S. Coral Reef Coordination Team and Steering Committee that will coordinate and oversee the development of the entire initiative. Dr. Crosby is also Co-Chair of the Domestic CRI Committee that will be largely responsible for management issues for resources in U.S. waters. Some of these precious resources include the Florida Keys where 100 square miles of reefs are threatened by toxic run-off in effluent, vessel groundings and increased recreational pressures. The Florida Keys alone provide $440 million a year through tourism and commercial fishing revenue and are a tremendous natural asset to the nation. Other key state commonwealth and territorial partners in the CRI are Hawaii, Guam, American Somoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Initially, it is envisioned that the U.S. CRI will incorporate a few strategies to undertake the project. CRI will offer assistance to coastal governments in assessing and managing resources that will ensure the protection, conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs and associated ecosystems. The initiative will also develop education and outreach programs to raise public awareness of the importance of protection, conservation and sustainable development of reefs. Regional Coral Reef Monitoring and Assessment Programs in the Caribbean and Pacific will be established, building on existing activities through new partnerships. Another item on the table for the CRI is a global effort to build capacity for effective management of coral reef ecosystems, including a USAID program to foster integrated coastal zone management. In order to facilitate the international cooperation the U.S., along with its partners, will host an intergovernmental meeting on coral reefs and related ecosystems. This meeting, set for early 1995, will focus international political attention on the rapidly declining health of coral reef ecosystems. Perhaps the most important element for success of this initiative is support for community involvement in the development and implementation of local and regional coral reef initiatives. For the national and international CRI to succeed in effectively conserving and managing coral reef ecosystems, it is essential that we base our programs on local community development.