A National Status Report on United States Coral Reefs Based on 2012–2018 Data From National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Coral Reef Monitoring Program

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Conservation Program supports the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP) in the United States Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. NCRMP conducts standardized observations of biological, climatic, and socioeconomic indicators across American Samoa, Guam, the Main Hawaiian Islands, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Pacific Remote Islands, Florida, the Flower Garden Banks, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands. NCRMP provides periodic, national-level assessments of the status of United States coral reef ecosystems and communities connected to them. In 2014, NCRMP partnered with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science on an unprecedented collaboration between federal and jurisdictional/state agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations to synthesize NCRMP data into a reporting format designed to be accessible and relevant to the public and policy makers. The process involved multi-year data analyses of key benthic, fish, and climate indicators. In populated jurisdictions, socioeconomic data were integrated to assess public support for management actions, participation in pro-environmental behaviors, and awareness of threats to coral reefs. Jurisdictions were scored using a report-card scale (0–100%) by establishing references for each indicator using best-available historical data or expert opinion where historical data did not exist or were not statistically comparable. Despite overall ecosystem scores of Fair for all combined Atlantic (70%) and Pacific (74%) jurisdictions, the current trend is downward with a majority of United States coral reefs declining and vulnerable to further degradation. Remote, uninhabited reefs had an advantage with respect to reef fish population scores, i.e., Flower Garden Banks (85%) and Pacific Remote Islands (93%), when compared to populated location scores, i.e., Puerto Rico (63%) and Main Hawaiian Islands (66%). All coral reefs are highly impacted by climate change, and climate impacts were more pronounced than expected on remote reefs, i.e., the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (58%). Presenting results in a report-card style facilitates communication to the public and policy makers, and provides a useful mechanism to garner support for management actions such as expanding protected areas; enforcing existing regulations; increasing climate change education; reducing land-based sources of pollution; and other actions to improve the trajectory of coral reef ecosystem conditions.

Towle, E. K., Donovan, E. C., Kelsey, H., Allen, M. E., Barkley, H., Blondeau, J., Brainard, R. E., Carew, A., Couch, C. S., Dillard, M. K., Eakin, C. M., Edwards, K., Edwards, P. E. T., Enochs, I. C., Fleming, C. S., Fries, A. S., Geiger, E. F., Grove, L. J., Groves, S. H., … Williams, I. D. (2022). A National Status Report on United States Coral Reefs Based on 2012–2018 Data From National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Coral Reef Monitoring Program. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.812216

The National Coral Reef Monitoring Program is funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, project #743. The authors thank the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for supporting this project via grant number 0302.18.061013.

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