Stressed Reefs May Get Relief

By Chepesiuk, Ron | Environmental Health Perspectives, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Stressed Reefs May Get Relief


Chepesiuk, Ron, Environmental Health Perspectives


Coral reefs, already one of the most delicate marine systems, are threatened by a host of pressures, including sea temperature increases, pollution, development, fishing, and tourism. Last March, the U.S. government unveiled an ambitious plan that addresses the most serious challenges facing coral reefs. Produced by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, the new National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs, or NAP, is a collaboration of 11 U.S. agencies, 7 coastal states and territories, and private groups including conservationists and fishing interests.

"This is the first-ever long-term national blueprint to deal with the coral reef crisis," says Roger Griffis, a policy advisor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who helped draft the NAP. "We need a comprehensive plan because we are at a critical juncture in our efforts to preserve coral reefs."

Under the NAP, 20% of all coral reefs would be set aside as "ecological reserves" where fishing and other extractive activities would be banned. The plan also calls for mapping U.S. coral reefs by 2009 to help decision makers prioritize their efforts; building an integrated national coral reef monitoring system that profiles and tracks the health of U.S. coral systems; and implementing an All-Islands Coral Reef Initiative to address the highest environmental priorities of U.S. state and territorial islands.

Two-thirds of the world's coral reefs may be dying and, if current conditions continue, 70% of them may be gone by 2050, according to statistics released by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. The report Reefs at Risk: A Map-Based Indicator of Threats to the World's Coral Reefs, issued by the World Resources Institute and several other environmental groups in 1998, concluded that 58% of the world's coral reefs are potentially threatened by human activities ranging from coastal development and destructive fishing practices to marine pollution and overexploitation of resources. Human land-based activities such as forestry, farming, and urban development produce pollution and sediment runoff that kill the reefs.

"Persuasive evidence shows that coral reef systems worldwide are subject to a host of natural and human-caused stresses and that these factors contributing to coral reef decline will continue unless we move to action," says Joanne Delaney, a research interpreter for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which works to preserve and protect the Florida Keys' coral reefs. …

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