NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program provided more than $20 million in funding, this year, for efforts that support coral reef science and management in seven U.S. states and territories. Of that, $8 million was awarded through grants and cooperative agreements to support domestic and international coral reef conservation and restoration projects across the U.S., the international Caribbean and Micronesia. Economic evaluation studies of coral reefs show that this natural resource contributes billions to the U.S. economy in terms of goods and services associated with tourism, recreation, coastal protection, and fisheries. Coral reefs are found in the following states and territories: American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 2015, NOAA declared the onset of the third observed global coral bleaching event. Since then, As of May 2017, all tropical coral reefs around the world have seen above-normal temperatures, and more than 70 percent experienced prolonged high temperatures that may have caused coral bleaching. U.S. coral reefs were hit hardest, with two years of severe bleaching in Florida and Hawaii, three years in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and four years in Guam. Although bleaching continues in multiple coral reef areas worldwide, the latest NOAA forecast shows that widespread coral bleaching is no longer occurring in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean basins, indicating the likely end to the global coral bleaching event. Experts from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program say that coral reefs around the world may finally catch a break from the high ocean temperatures that have lingered for more than an unprecedented three years.
A Handbook on Coral Reef Impacts was published in 2017 as a tool to help people and organizations understand, avoid, and minimize coral reef issues, and to identify potential options for compensating for unavoidable coral reef impacts. The handbook was developed by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, of which NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program is an active member.
Nearly 200 international coral reef experts participated in a workshop to foster collaboration on restoring Caribbean corals. They discussed new research showing that healthy reefs help prevent coastal flooding, a recovery plan for restoration and coral outplanting, and ways to establish sexually reproductive coral populations. Participants will follow up with topical webinars, online trainings, a recommendations document, and a coral restoration consortium. The workshop was co-hosted by several NOAA program offices and was supported by the Coral Reef Conservation Program, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, and National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources.
Coral reefs face unprecedented dangers related to climate change, marine pollution, and other perils. The U.S. and other members of the International Coral Reef Initiative passed recommendations to combat reef bleaching and microbead marine pollution and strengthen the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network through 2018. At a meeting in Paris, France, members also designated 2018 as the Third International Year of the Reef. NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program supports the International Coral Reef Initiative, which highlights the pivotal role of coral reefs and ecosystems in food security, environmental sustainability, and cultural well-being.