MIAMI, Florida -- Our coral reefs are in trouble. Almost 20% of the world's coral reefs have been lost and an additional 35% are threatened according to the expert opinion of 372 coral reef scientists and managers from 96 countries who contributed to the latest Status of the Coral Reefs of the World, published in 2008.
In response, a coalition of non-governmental organizations and environmental stakeholders issued a letter today calling for the Senate to pass strong conservation-minded coral reef legislation. The House version of the reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act passed in September of last year. Further movement of the legislation now depends on the Senate.
Thirty-five organizations signed the Senate corals letter. Groups represented include leading organizations such as the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), International Society for Reef Studies, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Surfrider Foundation, Greenpeace USA, Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, and Coastal States Organization.
The Coral Reef Conservation Act authorizes grants for coral reef conservation activities. Funds are awarded under six program categories: State and Territory Coral Reef Management; State and Territory Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring; Coral Reef Ecosystem Research; Projects to Improve or Amend Coral Reef Fishery Management Plans; General Coral Reef Conservation; and International Coral Reef Conservation.
The coalition expressed alarm about the declining health of coral reef ecosystems and the threats coral reefs face. Major threats noted include coastal runoff, overfishing and overharvesting, vessel impacts, invasive species, and coral bleaching, disease, and ocean acidification caused by unregulated greenhouse gas pollution.
Measures before Congress, supported by the coalition, include provisions to increase the status of protection for corals in all U.S. waters, increase funding for coral reef conservation efforts, provide support to better understand and manage the trade in coral reef wildlife, and support community-based approaches to coral reef stewardship, among others.
"Coral reef ecosystems face growing threats from overfishing, habitat destruction, poor water quality and disease", said Dr. Andrew Baker, a coral reef biologist at the University of Miami and a 2008 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation. "When you add the devastating impacts of our carbon dioxide emissions, which lead to warmer and more acidic oceans, coral reefs worldwide are left reeling from the impacts. The decline of coral reef ecosystems worldwide underscores the need for Congress to pass coral reef legislation, while also renewing its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas pollution."
"These valuable and fascinating ecosystems are disappearing within our lifetimes, and their loss will have significant economic, social, and environmental consequences in the United States and worldwide," said Steven Lutz, Executive Director of Blue Climate Solutions, the group that organized the coalition effort. "The Senate has a fantastic opportunity to protect and conserve coral reefs by passing this important legislation."
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