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Water: Habitat Protection

EPA Activities in Coral Conservation

Sea anemone with tentacles extended for nighttime feeding.

Activities and Initiatives

EPA is involved in domestic and international coral conservation projects. When one considers U.S. reefs, Florida and Hawaii are usually the first regions which come to mind. However, the U.S. has numerous responsibilities to island territories in the Caribbean and Pacific. Many Pacific Island Territories also have adopted U.S. environmental laws. Thus, EPA and other federal agencies must approach coral reef protection with a global perspective.

EPA Coral Reef Protection Activities

U.S. EPA, Biocriteria and Coral Reefs

Under the Clean Water Act, states may adopt water quality criteria based on biological, as well as physical and chemical, criteria. EPA is committed to providing technical and regulatory guidance for states and territories on development and implementation of biocriteria for coral reefs. U.S. EPA, Biocriteria and Coral Reefs describes protocols, tools, workshops and research.

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U.S. Coral Reef Task Force

EPA is an active participant in the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, established by an Executive Order on Coral Reef Protection issued by President Clinton on June 11, 1998 during the National Ocean Conference in Monteray, California.

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International and U.S. Coral Reef Initiatives

programs2b EPA is a partner in the International and the U.S. Coral Reef Initiatives. Established in 1994, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) is a partnership among nations and organizations seeking to implement international conventions and agreements for the benefit of coral reefs and related ecosystems. The U.S. Coral Reef Initiative (USCRI) was launched in 1996 as a platform of U.S. support for domestic and international coral conservation efforts. The goal of the USCRI 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.

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Biological Criteria for Coral Reefs

Reef communities exist within relatively narrow ranges of environmental parameters. The vitality of the reef community will begin to degrade as conditions move outside of these ranges. Understanding how these growth parameters relate to the coral ecosystem provides an opportunity to monitor and assess these communities and identify indicators of degrading environmental conditions. The coral reef symposium (A Coral Reef Symposium on Practical, Reliable, Low Cost Monitoring Methods for Assessing the Biota and Habitat Conditions of Coral Reefs, 1995) provided a platform to discuss appropriate assessment tools and community characterization. Several methodologies were identified, ranging from the simple to complex. Among the next steps called for at the symposium was the identification of indicators of reef health.

Following up on the conclusions and next steps presented at the symposium, EPA has prepared the document Development of Biological Criteria for Coral Reef Ecosystem Assessment [Stephen C. Jameson, Mark V. Erdmann, George R. Gibson, Jr. and Kennard W. Potts, 1998]. This paper evaluates the feasibility of establishing biological criteria for assessing coral reef ecosystems. Because of the interconnections which can develop between coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests, these ecosystems are considered one for the purposes of coral reef ecosystem bioassessment and biocriteria development. The biogeographic focus of the paper is coral reef ecosystems under U.S. jurisdiction.

Biological assessment of water bodies is predicated on our ability to define, measure, and compare the relative biological integrity between similar systems. Biological integrity is the condition of the aquatic community inhabiting unimpaired (or minimally impaired) water bodies of a specified habitat as measured by community structure and function. Unimpaired water bodies form the basis for defining reference conditions for biological criteria. When unimpaired water bodies do not exist within a region, an operational definition of unimpaired can be developed from a combination of minimally impaired coastal waters, historical information, and professional judgment. Biological criteria are narrative expressions or numerical values that describe the biological integrity of aquatic communities inhabiting waters of a given designated aquatic life use. Biological criteria are, in effect, a practical approach to establishing management goals designed to protect or restore biological integrity. If these criteria are included in state law they can be incorporated in State Water Quality Standards as enforceable regulations over point and nonpoint source discharges.

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Coral Reef Symposium

A Coral Reef Symposium (PDF) (83 pp, 415K, About PDF) on Practical, Reliable, Low Cost Monitoring Methods for Assessing the Biota and Habitat Conditions of Coral Reefs was held January 26-27, 1995. The event was co-hosted by EPA's Office of Water and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with support from the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program. The purpose of this meeting was to bring together recognized national and international experts in the field of coral reef research to discuss practical, technical approaches to evaluate the health of coral communities. The primary emphasis of this meeting was to identify scientifically valid techniques that were low enough in cost and technical requirements to be easily implemented by states and local governments. These technologies could also be easily exported to developing nations where much of the world's most extensive coral associations exist.

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Guidance on Coral Reef Protection

EPA’s Oceans and Coastal Protection Division is developing a framework document on coral reef protection. This document will consider protection of coral reefs from a watershed management perspective, and will offer resource managers a bottom-up concept of management. The intent is not to manage corals reefs in isolation, but to include them as part of a comprehensive integrated coastal zone management plan. This approach will improve protection of near-shore reefs by no longer managing coral reefs in isolation, but incorporating them into the planning processes of their associated watersheds.

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Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

EPA joined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adinistration (NOAA) and the state of Florida in the establishment of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Exit EPA Disclaimer (FKNMS). Although the Marine Sanctuaries program is administered by NOAA, EPA continues to provide support for coral reef research and management in the FKNMS. For example, EPA is providing funding to the Florida Keys Coral Reef Monitoring Project Exit EPA Disclaimer , a large-scale, multiple-investigator project designed to assess the status and trend of Florida's offshore reefs, patch reefs, and hardbottom communities over a 5-year period. The project provides the first real opportunity in the Florida Keys to address the question of whether and how the reefs are changing at the spatial scales required to detect large-scale patterns and discriminate between hypotheses.

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Factsheet on Coral Reefs and Coastal Watersheds

In 1998 EPA produced a series of colorful, illustrated coastal watershed factsheets explaining the links between coastal watersheds and the health of beaches, near coastal waters, coral reefs, and estuaries.

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Treasured Waters

The 1996 EPA publication Treasured Waters: Protecting Our Coastal and Marine Resources (PDF) (27 pp, 423K, About PDF) contains a chapter on coral reef protection. This document examines the benefits we derive from coastal resources, and links upstream activities to coastal problems, underscoring the importance of a watershed approach to coastal management.

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Watershed Management of Coral Reef Communities

EPA prepared this piece on Watershed Management of Coral Reef Communities (PDF) (319 pp, 2.4MB, About PDF) for Watershed '96, held June 8-12, 1996, in Baltimore, Maryland. Approximately 2000 people participated in the conference, the theme of which was "Moving Ahead Together." Participants came from a variety of backgrounds, including public education, government, state and local groups, public and privately-owned utilities, environmental groups, researchers, public policy experts, and many others. Teleconference downlinks involved thousands of other participants at another 156 remote sites.


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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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