It’s International Year of the Reef!

At the 31st General Meeting (November 2016 in Paris, France), the International Coral Reef Initiative declared 2018 as the third International Year of the Reef.IYOR2018_Blue

What is International Year of the Reef (IYOR)?

IYOR is a global effort to increase awareness and understanding on the values and threats to coral reefs and to support related conservation, research and management efforts.  During the last IYOR in 2008, more than 630 events were organized in over 65 countries and territories around the world!

What is the focus of #IYOR2018?

The ICRI is encouraging all members and partners to:

  • strengthen awareness globally about the value of, and threats to, coral reefs and associated ecosystems;
  • promote partnerships between governments, the private sector, academia and civil society on the management of coral reefs;
  • identify and implement effective management strategies for conservation, increased resiliency and sustainable use of these ecosystems and promoting best practices; and
  • share information on best practices in relation to sustainable coral reef management.

What can I do to support #IYOR2018?

  • Keep an eye on the AIC Facebook page. We’ll be posting events throughout the US and updates on ways to get involved.
  • Follow @IYOR2018 on Facebook or twitter to stay up to date on International Efforts
  • Reach out to your favorite Coral Reef organization and see what they have planned.
  • Or host an event to raise awareness among your friends. Some ideas to get you started:

YOU Can Help Prevent Coral Bleaching

by Carey Morishige Martinez, Executive director, AIC Secretariat

Molokini Coral Bleaching Media Clips. Credit: Hawaii DLNR

Bleached coral at Molokini Crater, Hawaii (10/9/15, Hawaii DLNR).

You’ve probably seen the many articles about coral bleaching the last few months (Google News search: ~103,000 results!). Just last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared the third global coral bleaching event on record…THIRD…EVER.

If you’re thinking “this can’t be good,” you’re right. But don’t lose hope!

Quick Side-bar:
Coral bleaching is…”When corals are stressed by changes in [ocean] conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.” (NOAA website)

Can corals recover from bleaching? YES. But, if bleaching lasts a long time, the coral usually dies. Interested in learning more? Check out our post and get the 4-1-1 on coral bleaching!

If you’re like me, you’ve asked yourself, “so what can I do?” There’s A LOT that we can do!

I really like this easy and straightforward list from The Nature Conservancy.

  1. Conserve water –> less runoff and wastewater
  2. Help reduce pollution –> less greenhouse gases= less ocean warming
  3. Use only organic fertilizers –> less pollution going into the ocean
  4. Dispose of your trash properly = no marine debris!
  5. Support reef-friendly businesses
  6. Plant a tree –> less greenhouse gases= less ocean warming
  7. Practice safe and responsible diving and snorkeling –> not touching or anchoring on corals = happier corals!
  8. Volunteer for a coral reef cleanup
  9. Contact your government representatives
  10. Spread the word!

We need our coral reefs.

Why? Check out these facts (International Coral Reef Initiative):

“…healthy coral reefs provide:

  • Habitat: Home to over 1 million diverse aquatic species, including thousands of fish species
  • Income: Billions of dollars and millions of jobs in over 100 countries around the world
  • Food: For people living near coral reefs, especially on small islands
  • Protection: A natural barrier protecting coastal cities, communities and beaches
  • Medicine: The potential for treatments for many of the world’s most prevalent and dangerous illnesses and diseases.”

Coral reefs are amazing. We need them and need to work together to make sure they’re around for future generations.

The Awesomeness that is the Coral Fellowship

by Carey Morishige Martinez, Executive director, AIC Secretariat


As job postings for a new cohort of Coral Fellows are closing this Friday (7/31/15), I thought this would be a great “don’t you want to be part of all this awesomeness?” post/tickler.

While I was never a Coral Fellow myself, I’ve worked with fellows in the past, and have learned a lot over the past two years while helping the AIC highlight and push for the renewal of this very successful program.

Since its inception in 2003, the National Coral Reef Management Fellowship Program has been a long-standing fellowship program within NOAA. After a brief hiatus, the program is back and built on a partnership between NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, the U.S. All Islands Coral Reef Committee, and the National Coral Reef Institute. Over the years, this program has provided opportunities for students and recent graduates to gain experience and knowledge in the field of coral reef management at the local level in the coral reef jurisdictions of the U.S. as well as with Federal government agencies like NOAA. A significant number of the previous fellows from this program have gone on to careers in the arena of coral reef and/or marine resources conservation and with the jurisdictional knowledge and understanding gained during the fellowship.

I have to admit that one of the most impressive things about this program is finding out what the fellows accomplished during their fellowship and where are they now. Here are a handful of VERY COOL highlights. 

  • Hawai’i – This fellow played a key role in supporting the work of Local Action Strategies in Hawai’i. Upon completion of her fellowship, she became a Planner for the Hawai’i Division of Aquatic Resources where she led the development of the Hawaii Coral Reef Strategy. She is currently the Reef Resilience Project Manager at The Nature Conservancy.
  • Puerto Rico – After finishing his fellowship he stayed with the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) for a while and has played a key role in the protection of coral reefs beyond his fellowship. He is now the representative of The Nature Conservancy in Puerto Rico and works hand on hand with the DNER Coral Reef Committee in strategies and activities to protect these ecosystems.
  • American Samoa – A former fellow coordinates the jurisdiction’s Coral Reef Advisory Group, which coordinates American Samoa’s coral reef management efforts and activities. Member agencies work together towards mutual consensus to manage coral reefs with the vision “to protect and conserve reefs for the benefit of the people of American Samoa, the United States, and the world.”
  • USVI – A USVI coral fellow stayed on with the St. Croix East End Marine Park (STXEEMP) after her fellowship through the one-year contract position. During that time she grew the Friends of STXEEMP group that she developed, supported implementation of park rules and regulations, and served as a liaison between the park and its users.
  • CNMI – It was with the help of a fellow that CNMI was awarded $2.9M (ARRA funding) for the improvement and management of Laolao Bay, a priority watershed. That fellow helped build and implement the Conservation Action Plan for that bay. Today, that fellow continues to work at the jurisdictional level as Lead Staff and Marine Resource Steward for Snohomish County, WA.
  • Guam – A former fellow remained on Guam and currently serves as a federal fisheries biologist and liaison as part of the Habitat Conservation Division of NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Islands Regional Office.
  • Florida – Florida was able to keep their fellow on after the fellowship in her original position. She is responsible for coordinating the Maritime Industry and Coastal Construction Impacts focus area for Florida’s Local Action Strategy, the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI).

Now, don’t you want to be a Coral Fellow?! 🙂

On Next Steps for the 20 ESA-listed Corals

by Carey Morishige Martinez, Executive director, AIC Secretariat

Coral reef use and conservation balanceToday, the U.S. All Islands Coral Reef Committee (AIC) submitted information and comments in response to NOAA Fisheries’ request for information (NOAA-NMFS-2014-0158) regarding rule-making for the 20 newly listed coral species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

This issue has and continues to be an important topic for the AIC for several years now. The AIC’s coral reef jurisdictions depend upon coral reef ecosystems for their economic, ecological, and social value. Coral reefs provide key ecological services valued in the billions of dollars that help define jurisdictional economies. Coral reefs are also an integral part of everyday life in these places.

Shoreline fishing in Hawaii. Credit: NOAA

Shore-based fishing in Hawaii is a common local past time. Credit: NOAA

The AIC recognizes that there must be a balance between resource protection and use. We understand that there are mandates and legal aspects behind resource protection, just as we know there are economic costs and traditional/cultural values behind use. This is what makes achieving balance between the two so difficult and yet so very important.

Towards that end, the AIC provided the following recommendations  (exceptions to 4(d) rule) to NOAA as we believe they are not necessary and advisable for the conservation of the 20 listed corals:

  • Accidental take associated with common, non-commercial fishing practices, specifically hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling, and trapping.
  • Accidental take associated with minor accidental impacts (i.e., we don’t want to make innocent people guilty). Thresholds should be defined for what constitutes the maximum allowable impact under this exemption.
  • The collection, maintenance, and use of listed species for research and educational purposes approved and permitted under the authority of the appropriate State/Territorial/Commonwealth resource agency.
  • The collection, maintenance, and use of listed species for cultivation projects and programs (including restoration, the aquarium trade, and transplantation) approved and permitted under the authority of the appropriate State/Territorial/Commonwealth resource agency.
  • Minor routine maintenance of commercial ports and harbors, as allowed under the authority of the appropriate State/Territorial/Commonwealth resource agency.
Acropora globiceps. Credit: NOAA

Threatened Acropora globiceps. Credit: NOAA

Additionally, NOAA should highly consider the operational efficiency of any ruling (4(d) or critical habitat) as a critical component to the implementation and administration of that ruling and ultimately conservation of the 20 listed corals.

Understandably, a prudent approach must be taken when determining critical habitat. The AIC recommends that NOAA conduct assessment surveys, prior to any critical habitat ruling, in areas such as ports, harbors, and marinas to determine presence or absence of listed corals as those locations in particular are economically critical to the states, territories, and commonwealths where these corals are found.

We know a lot of hard work and manpower has gone into this effort already, with likely much more to come. The AIC greatly appreciates NOAA and their staffs’ efforts on this issue. We look forward to continued communication and collaboration!

SUNIA-2013: A team from the very start

By AIC guest bloggers, Mariana C. Leon-Perez and Maria C. Lopez-Peña, 2013 Sunia interns in Puerto Rico

Maria and Mariana at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta on August 5, 2013.

Maria and Mariana at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta on August 5, 2013.

Maria and Mariana, this year’s 8th annual Governor Tauese P.F. Sunia Memorial Coral Reef Conservation Summer Interns, excelled as a team throughout their internship in Puerto Rico. Not only do these two young ladies share similar names and initials, they’re similar in background and even appearance. It could have not worked out better!

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge hosted Maria and Mariana for the summer, providing mentors and facilities for a successful internship. Support was also provided by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Mariana worked on restoration projects in the Guánica Bay/Rio Loco Watershed and Maria assisted with wildlife-habitat restoration initiatives under USDA-USFWS agreements. Maria and Mariana participated in outdoor fieldtrips, inter-agency networking, camping, agricultural experiences, and traveling, all of which provided them with good experience and information. Both interns took advantage of each others’ skills, which resulted in overall achievement of internship goals and challenges.

Recently, both had the opportunity to visit the USFWS Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta, GA to present their projects and shadow USFWS staff. Maria and Mariana gained information about the agency and received career advice for wildlife conservation opportunities. They returned to Puerto Rico with a lot of inspiring feedback, experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm for promising professional careers in wildlife and natural resources management.