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NCCOS Project

The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States

This project began in January 2000 and is Ongoing

Reports in The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States series represent NOAA’s ongoing effort to assess the condition of the nation’s shallow-water coral reef ecosystems based on quantitative results of assessment and monitoring activities. Reports are published periodically and contain the most current and comprehensive assessment of the condition of U.S. coral reef ecosystems in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific.

Why We Care
Healthy coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and economically valuable resources on earth. Often called the “rain forests of the sea,” coral reef ecosystems are among the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems. They provide millions of people throughout the U.S. and its territories with food, protection from coastal storms, and income from fishing, recreation and tourism. Despite their biological significance and economic value, coral reefs are deteriorating around the world at an alarming rate.

This series of reports was called for in the National Coral Reef Action Strategy and was designed to address the primary threats, goals, and objectives outlined in the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, and other guidance documents developed by the Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.

What We Did
Ultimately, the goal of this series is to answer the difficult but vital question: What is the condition of U.S. coral reef ecosystems? We base each report in the series on the best available science emerging from coral reef ecosystem monitoring programs in 15 jurisdictions across the U.S. and its territories. The 2008 State of Coral Reef Ecosystems report includes contributions from over 230 respected coral reef scientists and managers. For each of the 15 jurisdictions, an expert writing team presents data describing the status of water quality, benthic habitats, coral reef-associated biological communities, and 13 major threats to coral reefs identified in the National Coral Reef Action Strategy. Additionally, conservation management activities and recommendations for future actions are also discussed in each chapter. Finally, the condition of coral reef ecosystems is assessed and where possible compared across all 15 jurisdictions in the National Summary chapter.

Much of the data featured in the reports were developed with support from the NOAA/CRCP National Coral Reef Monitoring Program which provides research funds to NOAA partners with the aim of implementing a nationally-coordinated, long-term monitoring program to assess the condition of coral reef ecosystems.

What We Found
The most recent report, State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008, found that roughly half of the coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. are considered by scientists to be in ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ condition. It states that reef habitats adjacent to heavily populated areas tend to experience more intense threat levels related to issues like coastal development and recreational use. The report also says reefs far from human settlements are facing increasing threats, primarily from illegal fishing, marine debris, and climate change-related impacts (i.e., bleaching, disease, and acidification).

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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