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Scientists’ statement on the reauthorization of the US Coral Reef Conservation Act

All natural and social scientists who study coral reef ecosystems and the coastal and island communities which depend on them are urged to sign-on to the following scientists’ statement regarding the reauthorization of the United States’ Coral Reef Conservation Act. This statement is an open letter to Congress intended to garner support for the strongest possible reauthorization of theCoral Reef Conservation Act of 2000. Background information on the act and this legislation can be found at the end of this blog.

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As natural and social scientists who study coral reef ecosystems and the coastal and island communities which depend on them, we are profoundly concerned about the threats these ecologically, economically and culturally valuable ecosystems face in the United States and around the world.

Although tropical coral reefs occupy less than 0.1% of the planet’s surface area, they are home to an estimated quarter of the world’s marine species. This extraordinary biological diversity, combined with the role reefs play in the protection of coastlines from violent storms, the natural storehouse of pharmaceutical compounds they provide, the traditional cultural practices they support, and the economic value they generate through tourism and fisheries, make these ecosystems exceptionally valuable targets for marine conservation.

However, due to the impacts of primarily anthropogenic stressors and threats, coral reefs in the United States and worldwide are declining at an alarming rate. The major threats to coral reefs are well documented and include coastal runoff, overfishing and overharvesting, vessel impacts, invasive species, emergent diseases, and coral bleaching induced by climate change. Last year, two species of stony coral that were once dominant builders of reefs throughout the Caribbean, Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis, were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, a worldwide assessment published in 2004 by the Australian Institute of Marine Science indicates that 20% of reefs are already lost, 24% are in critical condition (in risk of being lost in 10-20 years), and 26% are threatened (20-40 year risk of loss).

It is not too late to save these valuable marine ecosystems, and indeed there is much more that we can do to address the major threats. We commend the excellent work accomplished by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program and the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and the proactive steps taken in the reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act by Congress and the Administration.

We further urge Congress and the Administration to adopt the strongest possible language for the protection and conservation of coral reef ecosystems in the reauthorization of this important legislation. Such measures could include the following:

  • The increased protection of coral reef ecosystems in all U.S. waters;
  • Increased funding for coral reef conservation, science, and management through NOAA and the Department of the Interior to address the threats U.S. coral reefs face;
  • Increased coordination between federal agencies, States, Territories and Commonwealths to address coral reef threats on a national and regional basis; and
  • Increased emphasis on “active” adaptive management for all U.S. coral reef areas to ensure that all that can be done to enhance reef health and resilience is being done. This action should include rigorous and continuous monitoring, assessment, and reporting of the effects and effectiveness of federally granted activities and management regimes, including marine protected areas, and vigorous efforts to make watershed activities maximally compatible with coral reef survival. These efforts should encompass both the ecological and sociological effects of management actions and include support for community-based approaches to coral reef stewardship.

Please support a strong reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act. Thank You.

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Who can sign? All U.S. institution affiliated natural and social scientists, including graduate students, who study coral reef ecosystems and the coastal and island communities which depend on them.

The DEADLINE for your signature is June 18, 2007.

If you would like to sign-on, please send your information as listed below via email to with “CRCA Scientist Statement Sign-on” in the subject line:

Format: First name Last name, Qualification or credentials, Affiliation, City, State or territory

For example:

Ivan McKenzie, Ph.D., The University of Smallville, Smallville, North DakotaBilly Connelly, Ph.D. candidate, University of Bigville, Bigville, North DakotaFiona Macrory, M.Sc., University of Giantville, Giantville, North Dakota

Affiliations are for identification only, and do not imply endorsement by signers’ institutions. There is not a conflict of interest if you receive federal grants, i.e. your signature on this statement does not count as lobbying on earmarks, etc. However, federal employees may not be able to sign-on (check with your supervisor). Signatures will be sorted alphabetically by state and then by last name. An initial signature list is listed following the Statement.

Additionally, you may want to contact your Senate or House representative directly by telephone and/or fax and express your views on coral reef conservation and this legislation. Mail is not recommended due to enhanced security measures. Contact from constituents on specific issues does count.

Feel free to pass this message to other interested parties and join the effort to conserve our coral reefs!


Richard B. Aronson, Ph.D., DauphinIslandSea Lab, Dauphin Island, AlabamaRichard Stoffle, Ph.D., Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, ArizonaLance Morgan, Ph.D., Vice President for Science, Marine Conservation and Biology Institute, Glen Ellen, CaliforniaJoanie Kleypas, Ph.D., Institute for the Study of Society and Environment, NationalCenter for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, ColoradoSteven Lutz, M.A., Ocean Policy Analyst, Marine Conservation and Biology Institute, Washington, District of Colombia
Andrew Baker, Ph.D., Division of Marine Biology and Fisheries, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
Don Olsen, Ph.D., Division of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
Stephen Miller, Ph.D., Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Key Largo, FloridaRobert Richmond, Ph.D., PacificBiosciencesResearchCenter, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HawaiiRobert J. Toonen, Ph.D., The Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Kane’ohe, Hawai’i
Alan White, Ph.D., Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, Honolulu, HawaiiRobert Steneck, Ph.D, Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Walpole, MaineLes Kaufman, Ph.D., Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, BostonUniversity Marine Program, BostonUniversity, Boston, MassachusettsMark Hixon, Ph.D., Department of Zoology, OregonStateUniversity, Corvallis, OregonElliott A. Norse, Ph.D., Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, President, Marine Conservation and Biology Institute, Bellevue, Washington


The reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 is moving through Congress. This legislation authorizes the Secretary of Commerce, through the NOAA administrator, to issue grants for coral reef conservation activities 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.

Language being discussed for the reauthorization includes increasing appropriations for the Coral Reef Conservation Program (see:, addressing the impacts of vessel groundings on shallow corals (including enforcement and liability provisions), broadening the Act to better include the Department of Interior, and much more.

Representative Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa introduced a Bill to reauthorize the CRCA on February 27, 2007 (The Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Amendment Act of 2007 (H.R. 1025), see: Cosponsors include Rep. Neil Abercrombie (HI), Del. Madeleine Bordallo (GU), and Del. Donna Christensen (VI). The Administration introduced its version of legislation for the reauthorization of the Act on May 14, 2007 (see: A Senate version of this legislation is expected shortly.