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US Coral Reef Task Force holds virtual meeting

Washington – The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force held its first meeting of 2020 via video teleconference on Oct. 15, where they were joined by Guam Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero, as well as federal, state, and territorial partners to discuss coral reef issues.

The task force is co-chaired by Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, Douglas W. Domenech and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Deputy Administrator and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, Timothy Gallaudet,

The task force discussed Stony Coral Reef Disease issues in the Caribbean, heard a presentation on the priorities of the U.S. All Islands Coral Reef Committee, and reviewed the Framework for Action for 2021 to 2025.

“I am proud of the work of the various committees in their ongoing efforts to protect coral reefs in the U.S. and the insular areas,” said Assistant Secretary Domenech. “Healthy coral and marine environments are important to our collective livelihoods.”

The AIC, organized in 1996 to ensure coordination and cooperation within and among state, commonwealth, and territorial agencies, along with the freely associated states, outlined their overarching goal to achieve site-based and resource-focused outcomes through stronger federal-local partnerships.

Priorities of the AIC remain as follows: 1) improve coral reef restoration following disasters through FEMA; 2) improve water quality standards; 3) expand coral disease intervention; 4) improve technical and financial support to the freely associated states; 5) institutionalize the Coral Reef Management Fellowship Program.

Notable accomplishments this year as reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) included the publication of a Manager’s Guide to Coral Reef Restoration, Planning, and Design, co-authored by Jason Philibotte and Jennifer Koss of NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and The Nature Conservancy. Already in use by the State of Hawaii and the Pacific territories, the publication is aimed toward managers of reef resources, conservationists, and anyone who plans, implements, and monitors reef restoration activities.

Notable activities as reported by agencies within the Department of the Interior include:

  1. Published a study in Scientific Reports on tidal flushing of coral reefs with cooler, deep ocean water which can reduce thermal stress that causes coral bleaching. Results of this study are expected to help the decision-making process and inform the designation of marine protected areas. The study was produced by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NOAA, and other stakeholders.

  2. The USGS and the National Park of American Samoa carried out research on Ofu Islands in American Samoa, to investigate an algae outbreak that threatens some of the most pristine coral reefs on the planet. The successful developments of new data acquisition systems (thermal-monitoring towers, infrared-equipped unmanned aerial vehicles, and radon buoys) allowed the team to isolate the long- and short-term effects of groundwater flow.

  3. The USGS led an international effort to better forecast, both in the near-term via early-warning systems and in the long-term via scenarios, flooding on coral reef-lined coasts, addressing both our current state of knowledge and future challenges. This culminated in a special perspective article and research published in Frontiers in Marine Science that focuses on advancements in understanding and predicting local sea levels, offshore wave climates, wave transformation and water levels across reefs, and linkages between coral reefs and island dynamics. The page now has more than 11,000 views.

  4. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) contributed $30,000 for restoration in the Guanica Bay Priority Watershed and $18,000 to support removal of marine debris within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii. The USFWS also provided $450,000 in Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds from the Casitas settlement to the State of Hawaii to support a marine debris cruise in Papahānaumokuākea. The cruise was initially intended to take place in October 2020, but has now been postponed, due to the pandemic, until sometime in the first half of 2021.

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