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National Coral Reef Institute

Issue

Sediment plume impact on a coastal reef
Sediment plume impact on a coastal reef

Coral reefs are among the most valuable and spectacular environments on earth, and are among the most productive and diverse marine ecosystems. The United States' coral reefs are valuable assets that contribute to a healthy economy by providing food, jobs, and protection from storms. Reefs create habitat for many fish and related species with commercial and recreational value. They support tourism and recreational industries by providing diving and snorkeling destinations, as well as sheltering beaches from the effects of storm activity. Coral reef related activities provide a significant economic benefit for many regions of the United States and the rest of the world.

Scientific evidence indicates that many coral reefs are deteriorating rapidly worldwide. Symptoms of this decline include the loss of hard corals, an increased abundance of algae, and a dramatic increase in bleaching episodes and disease outbreaks. Scientists and managers still lack critical information about many of the causes of coral decline, but evidence points to stresses caused by a variety of human factors (see inset above). Human impacts act separately and in combination with natural factors such as hurricanes, high water temperature, and disease to stress corals and degrade reef systems.

Globally, coral reefs appear to be experiencing large-scale ecological and physical changes. Both the amplitude and frequency of these events have no recent historical equivalents. Scientists and managers alike recognize that new and innovative programs are needed to resolve constraints in scientific knowledge of reef structure and function as it relates to issues of assessment, monitoring, and restoration.

Approach

The National Coral Reef Institute (NCRI) at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center was established by Congressional mandate in 1998. NCRI's primary objective is the protection and preservation of coral reefs through applied and basic research on coral reef diversity, assessment, monitoring, and restoration coupled with education and training of scientists, managers, and educators. The Coastal Ocean Program (COP) of the Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR), part of NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, continues to support the NCRI. The NCRI conducts research and monitoring that meets the research goals and objectives called for in the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000. NCRI scientists conduct projects designed to address coral reef issues which support both the mission of NOAA and the efforts of the Coral Reef Task Force to improve the definition of research and monitoring needs, thus enabling better management of the nation's coral reefs.

Through active research and collaborative funding, NCRI undertakes and facilitates hypothesis-based scientific research in emerging reef issues and technologies. NCRI provides scientific synthesis and evaluation criteria of existing programs for use by the research and management community. These include the study of minimally impacted, stressed, and imminently endangered reefs. Assessing and monitoring biodiversity is a priority, especially as it affects and interacts with ecological processes, overall reef function, reef recovery, and restoration. NCRI's primary capability is that of offering a strong scientific focus as well as innovative approaches to relevant scientific issues in all aspects of coral reef biology. NCRI collaborations include work with various branches of NOAA such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanographic Data Center, U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research, City of Miami Beach, Broward County DPEP, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey, the State of Florida, the National Park Service, the South Florida Ocean Measurement Center, Florida Atlantic University, University of South Florida, and the University of Miami.

In FY2005, Congress appropriated $1.0M to continue the work of NCRI for year-8. NCRI's current and planned research projects and collaborations include: innovative methods and programs to assess and monitor coral reefs on a global scale; investigations of ecological and genetic methods of and responses to coral reef restoration; and, mapping, remote sensing, and biological inventories of coral reefs. NCRI is active on coral reefs throughout the US territorial seas, from the western Pacific to the Atlantic and beyond .

Management and Policy Implications

Assessing coral reef health
Assessing coral reef health

NCRI close partnership state and federal agencies will ensure that state of the science information is made available in a timely manner to the agency responsible for the protection of coral reefs in Florida . The collaboration in NCRI between scientists and managers will result in scientifically sound management strategies and policies. Finally, NCRI will also provide a mechanism through which management practices can be evaluated and modified as necessary in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Accomplishments

The NCRI published the Proceedings of the International Coral Reef Conference as a special issue of the Bulletin of Marine Science . This peer-reviewed scientific volume sets forth important issues and priorities dealing with coral reef ecosystems and restoration. A major focus of the conference was to evaluate effectiveness of current restoration techniques and to identify information gaps and needs. This publication and NCRI scientific findings are providing the kind of information needed by resource managers to mitigate or reverse coral reef degradation.

The NCRI's research efforts have impacted the coral reef management community on both a local and global scale. Locally, NCRI has worked closely with the Broward County Department of Environmental Protection during their extensive mapping and monitoring efforts in the area, as well as the development of an indicator for coral stress that allows managers the ability to monitor the health of the coral reef ecosystem during a beach renourishment project. On a global scale, NCRI's innovative NCRI Monitoring Network is providing a better understanding of both regional and world-wide, large-scale coral reef ecosystem trajectories.

Current Projects

Assessment: Mapping

Assessment: Reef Function

Assessment: Molecular Genetics of Reef Populations

Assessment: Fishes

Assessment:Software

Monitoring

Restoration

Others

Related Links

National Coral Reef Institute

For More Information

David Hilmer
NOAA / NOAA Ocean Service / NCCOS / CSCOR
301-713-3338 x.153

Note: NCRI is a CSCOR coral reef core program contributing to the mission of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.