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Reef Smart Collaboration: A Coral Reef Ecosystem Education Initiative

This project began in January 2012 and is Ongoing

The Reef Smart Initiative is a series of strategic, community-based outreach events designed to increase awareness of NOAA’s coral reef ecosystem research and conservation success stories. The Reef Smart team collaborates with local partners and others to educate students, teachers, managers, and decision makers about local threats to reefs and ways they can participate in reef conservation, and also highlights ongoing efforts to protect reefs.

Why We Care
Coral reef ecosystems are among the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on earth. They provide food, jobs, coastal protection and recreational opportunities, among other services to countless people in the U.S. and its territories. Despite their value, coral reefs are declining at an alarming rate due in part to manmade threats like climate change, impacts from fishing and pollution.

Reef Smart was conceived as a local-level outreach initiative predicated on the idea that an engaged and educated public is vital to the success of coral reef ecosystem conservation efforts. The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program, the National Marine Fisheries Service's Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, and several other organizations are partnering to bring the Reef Smart initiative to many of the nation’s states and territories with coral reef ecosystems in their backyard.

What We Are Doing
Reef Smart uses grass-root forums (i.e., science open houses and seminars) to educate local communities and lawmakers about the threats to coral reef ecosystems, what NOAA is doing to conserve them and foster an interest in conserving these resources for future generations.

The forums and related messaging are coordinated with the help of local partners familiar with the most pressing challenges to each locale’s coral reefs. Reef Smart events include presentations by state/territorial experts and first-hand stories from managers to provide an impactful perspective on how outcomes from NOAA science are supporting local coral reef ecosystem conservation. Typical Reef Smart Initiative events include:

  • A hands-on science workshop for state/territory decision makers.
  • A themed coral reef science seminar, or series of seminars, for managers and academic researchers.
  • Educational opportunities for students and teachers, such as collaborations with  The JASON Project  or through Get Reef Smart!—a half-day education program for students and their teachers aboard a NOAA research vessel.

Additionally, Reef Smart targets local and national media outlets to bring coral reef science the broader public. Reef Smart and related NOAA coral reef research has been covered by numerous media outlets, including (links to articles are provided below when available): National Geographic, The Associated Press, Fox News Latino, Univision, El Nuevo Dia, and The Virgin Islands Daily News.

Benefits of Our Work
Reef Smart was initiated informally in 2009 in conjunction with a joint NCCOS–NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program seafloor mapping mission in Puerto Rico. Since then Reef Smart has grown, reaching numerous high-level policy makers managers, academic researchers, nongovernmental organizations and others. They include:

  • The office of the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico
  • The office of U.S. Virgin Islands Congresswoman Donna Christensen
  • Puerto Rico House of Representatives
  • The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources
  • Society for the Marine Environment (Sociedad Ambiente Marino)
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor (Coalicion pro Corredor Ecologico Nordeste)
  • University of Puerto Rico
  • Puerto Rico Sea Grant
  • Caribbean Fisheries Management Council
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Reef Smart Initiative has also educated hundreds of students and teachers from Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Maryland and beyond on the benefits of coral reef ecosystems and NOAA efforts to conserve and study them.

Additional Resources

Click to expand resource list(s).

Products, Datasets & Reports

  • Reports:
    • Clarke, A.M., Goedeke, T., Corsiglia, J., Ramos Àlvarez, A., Gill, T., Simpson, S. 2012. NOAA Reef Smart—A Coral Reef Ecosystem Education Initiative: A Summary of Results and Outcomes from NOAA Reef Smart Puerto Rico (2012). NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

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