NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) was established in 2000 by the Coral Reef Conservation Act to protect, conserve, and restore the nation's coral reefs by maintaining healthy ecosystem function.
CRCP and NOAA co-led the 45th meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force in Kona, Hawaii. NOS Assistant Administrator Nicole LeBoeuf co-chaired the meeting, which highlighted working group steps to build partnerships, strategies, and support for on-the-ground action to conserve coral reefs. During the meeting, the Faga’alu Watershed in American Samoa was honored as the Watershed Partnership Initiative’s first graduate in 2022. Following 10 years of partnership, Faga’alu Watershed demonstrated ecological improvement and established local capacity to monitor and manage future land-based sources of pollution. Two recurring meeting themes were the power of federal, state, and local comanagement of coral reef ecosystems and the incorporation of traditional ecological knowledge into resource management. Multiple events, sessions, and talks highlighted Hawaiian Indigenous communities and their connections to coral reefs. The task force was established in 1998 by executive order to lead U.S. efforts to preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems and includes leaders of 13 federal agencies; seven U.S. states, territories, and commonwealths; and three freely associated states.
Two grants were issued in Fiscal Year 2022, both focusing on the spread of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in the Caribbean. One of the grants went to Nova Southeastern University and Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute to treat diseased corals in the Dry Tortugas. The combined teams conducted a total of 265 dives covering an area larger than 146 football fields. A total of 6,038 corals were treated — more than doubling the total number of treated corals throughout the whole of Florida’s coral reef since intervention began in late 2018.
In 2022, NOAA completed a five-month expedition to the Mariana Islands on the NOAA Ship Rainier. This was the first NOAA mission to combine very different and historically separate projects — mapping/charting and coral reef ecosystem surveying. Known as RICHARD (Rainier Integrates Charting, Hydrography, and Reef Demographics), the mission was dedicated to, and in honor of, the late Admiral Richard Brennan, former director of the Office of Coast Survey. Rick had an inspiring vision for the future of the NOAA fleet and a forward-thinking, solutions-oriented approach to executing one-NOAA, multidisciplinary science. The mission would not have been possible without his leadership.
The cruise was a collaboration across NOS program offices and NOAA line offices. This exciting mission gathered information on corals, fish, and seawater in remote Pacific ecosystems and scanned the ocean floor using state-of-the-art technology to create seamless maps of the seafloor. The cruise produced high-quality data, products, and tools that benefit many applications, including habitat conservation, tsunami modeling, marine resource management, and even national security.
NOAA’s Pacific Islands Managed and Protected Area Community provided technical assistance to the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources to develop a sustainable herbivore management plan. The plan identifies herbivores critical to reef resilience; helps determine whether or not a fish species’ status is sustainable, unsustainable, or lacks data; and recommends sustainable management strategies where needed. Feedback from public scoping meetings will help decision-makers add or revise regulations to promote sustainability and effective management of nearshore resources (both herbivores and coral reefs), ensuring that there are plenty of these fish now and for future generations. This plan contributes to all four pillars of the Holomua Marine 30x30 Initiative, one of five commitments of the Hawaii Sustainable Initiative.
Using models and satellite monitoring in near real time, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW) provided advance warning of the mass bleaching event that followed the 2021-2022 severe heat stress event on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. CRW uses satellite, modeled, and in situ data to provide current reef environmental conditions to quickly identify areas at risk for mass coral bleaching. CRW collaborated directly with the Australian government and other key local stakeholders to coordinate information sharing between partners and to global media outlets. CRW is highly regarded by the global scientific research and management community for its scientific excellence and timely, open communication about changes in the marine environment that can impact coral reefs and the communities that rely on them.
CRCP continues to represent NOAA in critical roles in international coral reef conservation and restoration efforts. At the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, in June 2022, CRCP played a lead in more than a third of the 30 coral special events and sessions. CRCP and the Department of State represent the U.S. as chairs of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). CRCP also acts as vice chair of the Initiative Governance Committee within the Coral Research & Development Accelerator Platform. NOAA is co-chair to the advisory board for the Global Fund for Coral Reefs, with CRCP Director Jennifer Koss representing NOAA and the ICRI at these meetings. NOAA is committed to advancing coral reef conservation and restoration on a global scale by providing leadership across multiple platforms.