Climate Change New Focus for U.S. Coral Reef Task Force

PAGO, PAGO, American Samoa, August 27, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force today announced the formation of a new climate change working group and endorsed an action plan for the International Year of the Reef 2008 that will involve both government and nongovernmental partners in reef conservation.

The developments were finalized during the Task Force's biannual meeting this week in Pago Pago.

"This new climate change working group will be composed of experts from across the 19 agency Task Force in climate science, coral bleaching and management actions relevant to the coral reef and climate nexus," said Timothy Keeney, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and Task Force co-chair.

"We recognize and are acting to address the vulnerability of island and coastal communities to changes in shoreline protection, fisheries and tourism as a result of climate change effects to coral reefs," he said.

The new climate change working group will develop best practices to help local resource managers minimize the impact of climate-induced stresses like coral bleaching, while better educating the public about the impacts of climate change on the health and survival of reef resources.

The group called for each U.S. state and territory with reefs to develop bleaching response plans and assess what expertise and resources federal agencies have to mitigate risk and damage.

The Task Force called on members and partners to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The Task Force also affirmed the role that regional networks of marine protected areas can play in protecting ecological connectivity among islands in the face of potential future losses that may result due to climate change.

"The critical importance of addressing climate change issues sooner rather than later was clearly articulated in yesterday's panel and subsequent discussion," said American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono, local meeting host and author of the recent climate change statement that prompted the Task Force to take additional action.

"As Wayne Nastri, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator for Region 9 so eloquently stated, we need to begin immediately to put our words into action to address those opportunities within our mandates and abilities," Tulafono said.

The American Samoa Governor also announced the passage of a territorial Executive Order addressing climate change on August 23. The Executive Order takes a proactive approach by mandating the American Samoa government agencies and departments make short-term and long-term commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change discussions will continue next week as 30 local experts from U.S. Pacific states and territories, Fiji, and Western Samoa meet in Pago Pago, American Samoa to share strategies and learn how to use tools that predict where coral bleaching will occur, measure coral reef resilience, and assess the socioeconomic impacts of climate damage.

The workshop, part of global series, will be hosted by NOAA, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and The Nature Conservancy, who partnered with the World Conservation Congress (IUCN) and others to release the Reef Manager's Guide.

This meeting has showcased what can be done to conserve coral reefs," said Nikola Pula, Director of the Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs and acting co-chair of the Task Force.

"As a native Samoan, I am extremely impressed with what has been accomplished here in American Samoa over the last several years, and with the initiatives announced at this meeting," Pula said. "Throughout the Pacific Islands, the melding of traditional practices and institutions with modern science is giving us conservation efforts that are supported by the local communities."

The Task Force passed two additional resolutions. The first defined and launched phase two of a Local Action Strategy initiative, which created three-year plans for local action that implemented hundreds of targeted conservation projects worth millions of dollars.

The second resolution recognized a new strategic plan and charter for the U.S. All Islands Coral Reef Committee, which represents the governors and executive branches of the states, commonwealths, territories and freely associated states possessing coral reefs.

In keeping with the meeting's theme, Science and Culture Bridging Management, the Task Force meeting featured in-depth sessions on enhancing management strategies through incorporation of traditional knowledge and regional approaches to managing coral reefs across political boundaries at the ecosystem level.

Public workshops focused on federal grant and technical assistance opportunities for the region, as well as on methods for determining the economic value of coral reef ecosystems to protect economic benefits and enhance political support for reef conservation.

An Executive Order by President Bill Clinton in 1998 established the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to lead U.S. efforts to preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.