US Coral Reef Task Force attacks problems facing reefs around the world

If you’ve ever snorkeled over a sandy bottom, you know it’s not all that exciting.

The reason people want to get underwater is to experience the beauty of a reef. And in warmer climates, those tend to be coral reefs, the ones that draw the most attention.

Sadly, coral reefs all over the world are in danger from acidification, climate change, pollution, overfishing and invasive species.

And it’s not just about saving pretty coral. Reefs cover less than 2 percent of the world’s oceans, but are home to 25 percent of the ocean’s life. And they’re very much a part of human existence, as well.

Coral reefs, like this one, found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, home to over 7,000 species. Photo: Courtesy NOAA.
Coral reefs, like this one, found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, home to over 7,000 species. Photo: Courtesy of NOAA
Last month, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force convened in the United States territories of Guam and Saipan to work on ways to alleviate impacts to coral reefs, a meeting of the minds that included leaders from 12 federal agencies, multiple states and territories, NOAA, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard, the Department of Agriculture, and so on.

“The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting focused on widespread and devastating coral reef bleaching events, as well as some of the ways that local programs are trying to manage other threats, such as land-based sources of pollution, over-harvesting and damage from recreational activities on our reefs,” Adrienne Loerzel, a contractor with NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, explained to GrindTV.

Loerzel grew up snorkeling, free diving and fishing on Guam, and after several years on the U.S. East Coast, realized how much she missed tropical beaches and the amazing environments in Guam.

She now helps coordinate partners, identifies resources for conservation work and energizes communities to help troubled coral ecosystems. Her time off is spent introducing her young son to the coral reefs and limestone forests that she loves.

Great Star Coral in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, 100 miles off the coast of Texas. Photo: Courtesy NOAA.
Great Star Coral in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, 100 miles off the coast of Texas. Photo: Courtesy of NOAA
“The meeting was a great chance for government agencies, non profit organizations, and the public to work together to find solutions to environmental threats. Having the meeting here in the Marianas Islands provided us with the rare chance to showcase some of the work we’re doing and the amazing partnerships we have built,” she added.

The very term “climate change” has become a hot-button issue. Florida state employees and former employees famously told the Miami Herald that Governor Rick Scott’s administration instructed them to not use the term (along with “global warming”) in reports and presentations.

Florida is one of three states that even have coral reefs.

But NOAA, the co-chair on this summit, certainly doesn’t shy away from using it.

“It’s a lot more difficult to ignore climate change when you see it happening in such a dramatic and immediate way. Pacific islands are already experiencing unusually high tides, droughts and other events that are affecting our ability to get fresh water, grow food, or keep homes secure,” said Loerzel.

Whitney Hoot, NOAA Coral Reef Management Fellow, surveys coral bleaching in Guam. Photo: Courtesy NOAA.
Whitney Hoot, NOAA Coral Reef Management Fellow, surveys coral bleaching in Guam. Photo: Courtesy of NOAA
The summit brought together proven methods to reduce effects on reefs, but most importantly, it opened the door to communication.

“The task force discussions really underscored the need for better cooperation at all levels — within the government, across geographies and across political boundaries.

“By understanding each other better, we can come up with broad policies and specific projects that take advantage of our strengths and help our coral reefs survive,” Loerzel offered.

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