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Water: Habitat Protection

Coral Reef Initiatives


A school of fish swimming among coral.



Coral reefs are in serious decline globally, especially those near shallow shelves and dense populations. It has been estimated that 10 percent of the Earth's coral reefs have already been seriously degraded and a much greater percentage is threatened. If allowed to continue, this decline is likely to lead to the loss of most of the world's reef resources during the next century. The International Coral Reef Initiative and the U.S. Coral Reef Initiative were launched in recent years with the following broad objectives:

  • Expand the implementation of programs for conservation, restoration and management of sustainable coral reefs and their associated communities among governments and international organizations.
  • Incorporate management provisions into existing local, regional, and national development plans that provide for protection, restoration, and sustainable use of corals and their associated communities.
  • Strengthen the capacity for development and implementation of management policies and research, and monitoring of coral ecosystems.
  • Establish and maintain coordination of international regional and national research and monitoring programs to ensure efficient use of resources and information flow.

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International Coral Reef Initiative

In 1992 the international community came together in the Earth Summit  Exit EPA Disclaimer The final document of this summit identified coral reefs as ecosystems of great biodiversity and production that should be accorded high priority for protection. It further called for an integrated management approach for their protection and sustainable use. Concerned over the rapidly declining health of the worlds corals and related ecosystems, the United States joined with many other nations to form the International Coral Reef Initiative in 1994.

The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) Exit EPA Disclaimer is a partnership among nations and organizations seeking to implement international conventions and agreements for the benefit of coral reefs and related ecosystems. Founded by eight governments -- Australia, France, Japan, Jamaica, the Philippines, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America -- the ICRI was announced at the First Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity Exit EPA Disclaimer in December 1994. Since then, the ICRI has come to encompass the participation of additional partners from governments, United Nations organizations, multilateral development banks, environmental and developmental non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. In the United States, ICRI is implemented by several federal resource management agencies with overall guidance provided by the Department of State. EPA is a supporting member of the International Coral Reef Initiative.

An early decision of the original ICRI partners was to sponsor an international workshop focused on coral reefs. In anticipation of the workshop, the partners worked to produce a "Call for Action." The purpose was to provide broad principles which could be used to unify the participants in a partnership and to set the direction for the workshop. The international ICRI workshop was held at Dumaguete City, the Philippines from May 29 through June 2, 1995. Participants in the workshop provided additional insights leading to consensus approval of the Call to Action at the workshop. The intent of the workshop was to enable governments, donors and funding agencies, development organizations, NGOs, the research community and the private sector, to work together in order to develop a "Framework for Action," which responds to the Call to Action. The Framework for Action responds to the global problem identified in the Call to Action and was developed with the following purpose: "to mobilize governments and the wide range of other stakeholders whose coordinated, vigorous and effective actions are required to implement the Call to Action."

The Call to Action and the Framework for Action are designed to be used in several ways.

  • They provided the basis for regional workshops that defined regional needs and priorities, and catalyzed the deveopment of national coral reef initiatives.
  • They give visibility to the ICRI's goal of ecosystem and community-based management.
  • They encourage U.N. agencies and convention bodies, as well as multilateral and bilateral donors to incorporate ICRI into their programs, thereby better focusing and leveraging resources.

In 1995, ICRI called on many nations to commit themselves to increasing research and monitoring of reefs to provide the data for effective management. Several international organizations have joined forces to co-sponsor the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN)  Exit EPA Disclaimer which is hosted jointly by the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management. These bodies, along with the ICRI Secretariat, form the GCRMN Management Group, with advice provided by a widely representative Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (GCRMN-STAC).

GCRMN functions through fifteen independent networks, or sub-nodes, in six regions around the world. These networks contain many different groups of people, all collaborating to monitor coral reefs and share data. GCRMN emphasises the involvement of local communities. Wherever possible, the GCRMN uses existing organisations and networks, integrates existing monitoring programmes, and maintains flexibility to incorporate different methods of monitoring, other than the standard methodology. GCRMN aims to improve management and sustainable conservation of coral reefs for people by assessing the status and trends in the reefs and how people use and value the resources. It does this by providing many people with the capacity to assess their own resources, within a global network, and to spread the word on reef status and trends.

To date, ICRI has:

  • Hosted an international and regional workshops to foster global cooperation on the sustainable use of coral ecosystems.
  • Hosted domestic workshops in the U.S. to foster sustainable use alternatives for coral communities.
  • Increased awareness of conservation practices among the world's coral nations.
  • Gained cooperative agreements between nations on coral management and conservation.
  • Obtained support from the World Bank to consider financing mechanisms for sustainable use of coral ecosystems.
  • Launched the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network Exit EPA Disclaimer .

NOAA's Coral Health and Monitoring Program has prepared a thorough chronology of ICRI activities and publications.

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U.S. Coral Reef Initiative

The United States is one of the first countries with coral reefs to launch a national Coral Reef Initiative. Announced in 1996, the U.S. Coral Reef Initiative (USCRI) is designed to be a platform of U.S. support for domestic and international coral conservation efforts. The goal is to strengthen and fill the gaps in existing efforts to conserve and sustainably manage coral reefs and related ecosystems (sea grass beds and mangrove forests) in U.S. waters.

The U.S. has significant coral reef resources in the southern Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and western Pacific, including:

  • Florida Keys coral ecosystem is the third largest coral reef tract in the world-over 360 kilometers long covering over 2800 square nautical miles including over 5500 marine species and the world's largest sea grass bed (Florida Bay);
  • Deep-water coral reefs of the Oculina Banks off the U.S. southern Atlantic coast;
  • Diverse Caribbean coral reefs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands;
  • Northernmost coral reefs in North America on salt-domes off the coast of Texas.
  • Extensive coral reefs of the U.S. Pacific covering over 10,000 square miles.

U.S. coral reefs are important for many reasons including their economic contributions. For example:

  • Four million tourists visit the Florida Keys contributing over $1.2 billion to tourism-related services every year;
  • In the U.S., coral reef ecosystems support hundreds of commercial and recreational fisheries worth millions of dollars to local and state economies;
  • The Florida Keys coral reefs are the number one dive destination in the world;
  • Three million tourists visit one of Hawaii's many coral reef sites every year;
  • In American Samoa, coral reefs play an important cultural role and supply over 50 percent of the fish caught locally for food;
  • In Guam and the Northern Marianas, 90 percent of new economic development is related to coastal tourism.

USCRI is a partnership of federal, state, territorial and commonwealth governments, the scientific community, the private sector and other organizations. The primary objective of USCRI is to foster innovative partnerships and cross-disciplinary approaches that reduce the threats to U.S. coral ecosystems.

Note: Information on the U.S. Coral Reef Initiative was excerpted from the 1997 Publication NOAA Coral Reef Initiative (PDF)  Exit EPA Disclaimer (12 pp, 339K, About PDF).

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For additional information contact:
Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds
Ocean and Coastal Protection Division
Mail Code 4504T
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20460

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