U.S. Coral Reefs are in Fair Condition but Vulnerable and Declining

Corals at Swains Island in American Samoa
Corals at Swains Island in American Samoa. (NOAA/James Morioka)

The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program released a national status report for coral reefs in the United States, including coral ecosystems in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, Flower Garden Banks, Guam, Hawaii and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, the Pacific Remote Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The status report provides an overall snapshot from 2012-2018 of coral reef ecosystem conditions based on four indicators: corals and algae, fish, climate, and human connections.

Highlights of the status report include:

  • Coral reef ecosystems in both the United States Pacific and Atlantic ocean jurisdictions have a “Fair” score, but are vulnerable and declining.
  • Coral reefs near more dense human populations are degraded, which is likely due to land-based sources of pollution, impacts from fishing, temperature stress from global warming, more acidic water conditions, and for Florida and the wider Caribbean, a coral disease epidemic.
  • Climate change impacts all coral reefs, regardless of location and proximity to human populations.

Coral reefs have biodiversity comparable to tropical rainforests, and they are among the most culturally significant and economically valuable ecosystems on Earth. In the United States, coral reefs provide billions of dollars in food, jobs, recreation and tourism, and coastal protection. A U.S. Geological Survey study determined that coral reefs annually provide flood protection to over 18,000 Americans and $1.8 billion worth of coastal infrastructure. However, they face an increasing number of threats from pollution, fishing impacts, climate change and ocean acidification, and more.

The status reports were developed by the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program, an integrated and focused monitoring effort with partners across the United States. They reflect data collected from 2012 to 2018. These reports join status reports released in December 2018 for the Pacific jurisdictions and in May 2020 for the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico jurisdictions.

View the cover letter, status report, and methodology report here.

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