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Water: Habitat Protection

U.S. Coral Reef Task Force

Red staghorn coral.

Executive Order on Coral Reef Protection

On June 11, 1998 President Clinton issued Executive Order 13089 on Coral Reef Protection "to preserve and protect the biodiversity, health, heritage, and social and economic value of U.S. coral reef ecosystems and the marine environment." The presidental directive was issued as part of the National Ocean Conference Exit EPA Disclaimer , a meeting of U.S. ocean policy makers convened to mark the International Year of the Ocean. The Executive Order directs all federal agencies to protect coral reef ecosystems to the extent feasible, and instructs particular agencies to develop coordinated, science-based plans to restore damaged reefs as well as mitigate current and future impacts on reefs, both in the United States and around the globe.

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Coral Reef Task Force

The Executive Order on Coral Reef Protection establishes the interagency U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Exit EPA Disclaimer , co-chaired by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce through the Administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). International initiatives for coral reef protection are to be coordinated through leadership of the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the Agency for International Development.

Members of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force  Exit EPA Disclaimer

The Executive Order establishes the following duties for the Task Force:

  • Coral Reef Mapping and Monitoring. In cooperation with State, territory, commonwealth, and local government partners, the Task Force will coordinate a comprehensive program to map and monitor U.S. coral reefs including territories and commonwealths, special marine protected areas such as National Marine Sanctuaries, National Estuarine Research Reserves, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and other entities having significant coral reef resources. The use of remote sensing is encouraged.

  • Research. The Task Force will work with the scientific community to develop and implement a program of research aimed at identifying the major causes and consequences of degradation of coral reef ecosystems. Current and planned monitoring and mapping initiatives should be incorporated into the research to the extent feasible.

  • Conservation, Mitigation, and Restoration. The Task Force will work with State, territorial, commonwealth, and local government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, the scientific community and commercial interests to develop and implement measures to restore damaged coral reefs, and mitigate further coral reef degradation. These measures may include actions to address problems such as land-based sources of water pollution, sedimentation, detrimental alteration of salinity or temperature, over-fishing, over-use, collection of coral reef species, and direct destruction caused by activities such as recreational and commercial vessel traffic and treasure salvage. The Task Force will also evaluate existing navigational aids, including charts, maps, day markers, and beacons to determine if these can be improved for the purpose of marking the locations of coral reefs.

  • International Cooperation. The Secretary of State and the Administrator of the Agency for International Development, in cooperation with other members of the Coral Reef Task Force, willl assess the U.S. role in international trade and protection of coral reef species, and implement appropriate strategies and actions to promote conservation and sustainable use of coral reef resources worldwide. Such actions shall include expanded collaboration with other International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) partners, especially governments, to implement the ICRI through its Framework for Action and the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network at regional, national, and local levels.

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Task Force Activities

First Task Force Meeting
Multiple States, Territories, and federal agencies including EPA, NOAA, and the Department of Interior were represented at the first-ever meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force held October 19-20, 1998 at Biscayne National Park in Florida. Task Force members laid a foundation to carry out the goals of the Executive Order, and discussed how to implement the order with representatives of State, Territorial and Commonwealth governments, along with researchers, commercial interests, and non-governmental organizations. The Task Force identified issues of major concern, including: overfishing of reefs; declines in water quality from urban and agricultural runoff and deforestation; lack of coordination with scientific research; and improving methods to restore damaged reef areas. The Task Force agreed to form working groups to form specific strategies to deal with these issues on a large scale. The strategies will be reviewed at the Task Force's next meeting in the spring of 1999 and ready for implementation shortly thereafter.

The Task Force meeting also served as a forum for Commerce Department Deputy Secretary Robert Mallett to announce several new programs designed to better protect the nation's coral reefs and ensure their long-term ecological and economic vitality. The new programs include increased monitoring of water quality and biological diversity in critical coral reef systems including pristine coral areas off the coast of Florida; grant awards for monitoring and education projects in U.S. Territories and Hawaii; additional funds for local-level coral conservation projects; and expanded mapping of U.S. coral reef ecosystems to help local, state and federal decision-makers protect valuable coral reefs. See a October 19 NOAA press release  Exit EPA Disclaimer for more details.

For more information on the first Task Force meeting, see:

Second Task Force Meeting
The second meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force took place in Maui, Hawaii, March 6, 1999. Commerce Deputy Secretary Robert Mallett, on behalf of the Task Force, announced a series of actions to begin the collaborated effort to protect and restore coral reefs. After being in existence for less than nine months, the Task Force identified a number of key actions to begin implementing over the next six months, including:

  • Launch a comprehensive effort to map and assess U.S. coral reefs in the Pacific;
  • Establish a coordinated network of coral reef protected areas, building on existing federal, state, territory and other sites and activities;
  • Implement a coordinated coral reef monitoring program, building on federal, state, territory and other partners and including support for international efforts such as the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network;
  • Coordinate efforts among federal, state, territory and other partners to build emergency response capabilities and restore injured coral reefs;
  • Strengthen local and regional efforts to protect coral reefs through support for priority items identified in the U.S. Islands Coral Reef Initiative.

The Task Force also passed four resolutions on critical issues facing coral reefs. The Force voted to:

  • Support evaluating options to address imports of coral and coral reef species and promote sustainable harvesting of traded coral reef resources (the U.S. is the world's largest importer of corals, currently importing 80 percent of all coral and 50 percent of aquarium fish traded worldwide);
  • Support the existing U.S. Islands Coral Reef strategy as a priority for new funds proposed in President Clinton's FY2000 Lands Legacy Initiative;
  • Support the Department of State's statement on coral bleaching and climate change. The statement acknowledged that in 1998 coral reefs around the world suffered the most extensive bleaching and subsequent mortality in modern record. It is likely that anthropogenic global warming has contributed to increasing sea surface temperatures, the extensive coral bleaching, and the coral mortality that occurred simultaneously; and
  • Support the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperative's resolution against destructive fishing practices, including dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing.

In the next six months, working groups will build on their proposals and present the Task Force with final strategies that will include budget estimates and performance plans to track progress and measure success. The Task Force meets again in October 1999 for review and possible adoption of the working group strategies as a Task Force Action Plan.

[Excerpted from NOAA News.]  Exit EPA Disclaimer

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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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