Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary Hugh Vickery
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: March 3, 2005 202-501-4633
Norton Commends Progress in Protecting
Imperiled Coral Reef Ecosystems

Addressing a meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, Interior Secretary Gale Norton today commended the work of federal and state agencies to protect coral reefs while emphasizing the importance of continuing to build partnerships to protect these fragile ecosystems from destruction.

"Through a partnership of federal agencies, states and territories, we have identified the biggest threats to coral reefs and are now in the process of implementing a strategic plan to reduce and eliminate these threats," Norton said. "President Bush is supporting these efforts by expressly requesting $2.7 million for the Interior Department and Commerce Department in his 2006 budget."

Coral reefs are among the world's most endangered ecosystems. The Coral Reef Task Force was established by Executive Order in 1998 to develop and implement a comprehensive program of research and mapping to inventory, monitor, and identify the major causes and consequences of degradation of reefs.

As part of implementing a national strategy for conserving coral reefs, the task force has identified major threats that include land-based sources of pollution, over-fishing, recreational misuse, and lack of public understanding of the needs and importance of coral reefs.

To address these threats, the task force is actively encouraging states and territories to implement Local Action Strategies for conserving the coral resources off their shores. In each jurisdiction, decisions on what actions to undertake are based on community input, generally through extensive public meetings. The result is a locally-driven set of priorities.

"Whether on land or at sea, the best approach to conservation is to work in close cooperation with states, territories, conservation groups, landowners and others," Norton said. "Through cooperative conservation, we leverage both our funding and our know-how to benefit the reefs."

The Interior Department has taken a number of steps to protect coral reefs. Last fall, for example, the department signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Boat Owners Association of America, commonly known as BoatUS, for joint environmental education and other efforts at coral reef conservation. The agreement will help reduce the number of collisions between boats and reefs.

"We recognize that this is not a problem the federal government can or should try to solve alone," said Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson, who chairs the task force. "As a result, we are seeking similar partnerships and agreements with organizations whose members benefit from healthy coral reefs."

Coral reefs are storehouses of immense biological value that provide an estimated $375 billion each year to the world economy from recreation, tourism, food, pharmaceuticals, and other purposes. The benefits to Florida, for example, exceed $3 billion.

Coral reefs also protect our coastlines from storm damage and prevent erosion, a benefit for Floridians and coastal communities in the Pacific during hurricanes and typhoons. They also provide shelter and food for as many as 10 million animals and plants and are the oldest and largest structures made by living organisms on the planet. The same factors that make them so important make them vulnerable to over exploitation.

Five agencies within the Interior Department - the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minerals Management Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and Office of Insular Affairs -- are working on the ground and underwater to monitor the health of coral reefs and enhance their protection.




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