New Tools Support Ridge-to-Reef Conservation and Management

GCCRMP members departing shore to collect data through biological 
monitoring surveys. Photo: NOAA
This aerial view of West Maui illustrates how marine resources, like coral reefs, are directly impacted by what happens in adjacent watersheds. A closer inspection reveals a sediment plume just off the coast. Credit : NOAA

Coral reef and coastal resource managers now have two new tools to strengthen their efforts on the ground and in the water to reduce the impacts of land-based sources of pollution on coral reefs. The tools are a product of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Watershed Partnership Initiative.

Impacts from pollution that stem from actions on land (e.g., coastal development and agricultural runoff) are a serious issue. They can impede coral growth and reproduction, disturb ecological function, and cause disease.

"Globally, there has been very limited research that connects management actions taken in watersheds to downstream impacts in coral reef areas," Jennifer Koss, Director of the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, said. "These new tools from the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force will play an important role in improving water quality and making strides in coral reef conservation."

The first is a series of ecological indicators and measurements to evaluate the success of existing watershed management efforts. The indicators look at coral communities, as well as sediment and water quality. Nearly all were selected from existing national-scale monitoring efforts by federal agencies.

The second is a user-friendly checklist that walks watershed coordinators through a series of questions to help them implement a successful ridge-to-reef watershed management plan. The checklist helps gauge support from stakeholders--including local groups and federal agencies--and documents overall progress as a ridge-to-reef watershed management plan is implemented. The checklist is meant to be completed on an annual basis to track progress.

Both tools were developed by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Watershed Partnership Initiative in response to a 2012 resolution that called for increased work to reduce land-based sources of pollution from entering into coastal coral reef areas.

The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force brings together representatives from 12 federal agencies, officials from state and territory governments, and delegates from three freely associated states to further coral reef conservation. The task force named three priority U.S. watershed sites - Guánica, Puerto Rico, West Maui, Hawaii, and Faga'alu, American Samoa - where it focuses efforts to reduce the impacts of land-based pollution on coral reefs.

Key partners in this effort include, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Interior, watershed coordinators for the priority sites, Ridge to Reefs, and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

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