AIC Chair’s Report, Sept 2016: Priorities, updates, challenges, & accomplishments


by Carey Morishige Martinez, Executive director, AIC Secretariat

The U.S. All Islands Coral Reef Committee (AIC) is still in the Marianas (until Saturday) participating in the 36th U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) Meeting, but wanted to share with you some of what’s been happening since the AIC last met in February 2016.

In the Marianas, warming waters have already caused coral reef bleaching–for yet another consecutive year. Florida continues to deal with an unprecedented coral disease outbreak. And, in other jurisdictions grounded vessels, invasive species, and land-based pollution impacts, to name a few, continue.

For the AIC, strengthening federal-jurisdiction integration and partnerships, the Coral Reef Management Fellowship Program, and Coral Reef Conservation Act (of 2000) reauthorization remain top priorities.

Now, more than ever, it is critical that we continue to work together to make a positive difference for our coral reefs.

Towards that end, the approval at the 36th USCRTF Meeting of two very important documents (“U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Strategy, FY2016-2021” and “U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Watershed Partnership Initiative Strategy”) is a huge accomplishment and the AIC is proud to have helped build both documents.

For more information and details, check out the newest AIC Chair’s Report presented at the 36th USCRTF Meeting in the Marianas.  

Read through it here or download it here.

AIC Chair’s Report: Priorities, updates, challenges, & accomplishments

AIC Chair's Report - Feb 2016

by Carey Morishige Martinez, Executive director, AIC Secretariat

In the three months since the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force last met, efforts to conserve and manage our coral reefs have continued. Thankfully, the winter season brought cooler waters and a much needed reprieve for our coral reefs, many of which have suffered back-to-back years of bleaching. However, in areas like southeast Florida, the number of corals impacted by an unprecedented disease event continues to grow and the cause(s) of the disease has yet to be identified.

Coral bleaching from warming oceans, ocean acidification, Crown of Thorns Starfish outbreaks, ship groundings, coral disease outbreaks, invasive algae, land-based sources of pollution, and so many other things impact our coral reefs each day.

We must stretch beyond the ‘status quo’ and work together, as federal agencies and jurisdictions, to make a difference NOW.

AIC Chair's Report, Feb. 2016At each biannual U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) meeting, the AIC Chair presents a report of AIC priorities, challenges, and accomplishments in every AIC jurisdiction and the Freely Associated States since the previous Task Force meeting. Check out the newest AIC Chair’s Report presented at the 35th USCRTF meeting in Washington D.C.  

Read through it here or download it here.


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.

National Coral Reef Management Fellowship Program – JOB OPENINGS!

by Carey Morishige Martinez, Executive director, AIC Secretariat

Interested in learning more about coral reef ecosystem management in your own backyard? Looking for a job that will provide solid hands-on resource management experience? Working towards building your career in natural resource management related to coral reefs?  Want to be part of the next generation of coral reef conservation leaders?

If you answered YES to any of the above, READ ON…!

Anne Rosinski, previous Hawai'i Coral Reef Management Fellow.

Anne Rosinski, previous Hawai’i Coral Reef Management Fellow.

The renewed National Coral Reef Management Fellowship Program provides participants an opportunity to experience and learn about coral reef management within the seven U.S. coral reef jurisdictions that make up the AIC: American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawai’i, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This Fellowship Program is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’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.

Positions are open right now and close July 31, 2015.

Coral Reef Management Fellows are placed in state and territorial natural resource management agencies (the host agencies) in each of these jurisdictions every other year where they work on specific projects related to coral reef conservation. Although fellows are employed through NSU, they are essentially working for the host agencies and should consider their on-site fellowship supervisors to be their direct managers.

For additional information or questions about the fellowship positions, please contact John Tomczuk at

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!

The 4-1-1 on Coral Bleaching

by Carey Morishige Martinez, Executive director, AIC Secretariat

Since summer, I’ve seen a seemingly unending flow of media headlines like these: “Coral Bleaching Outbreak Triggered By Warming Seas,” “State continues to monitor coral bleaching off Windward Oahu,” “Report: Reef showing signs of coral bleaching,” and “Scientists report coral bleaching off Kauai coast.” And, they keep on coming.

What does this mean? Why is bleaching happening?

I went looking for answers and here are some of the great resources I found:

bleachingWhat is coral bleaching? – NOAA National Ocean Service’s Ocean Facts
“When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.”


Bleached coral within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA NOS


What happens when a coral bleaches? – NOAA’s Diving Deeper (pub. 12/3/14)

“MARK EAKIN: You know when the water warms up, what happens is it’s actually good for the algae in one way in that it makes all of their photosynthetic apparatus run really great, but the problem is they run too fast; and as they run too fast they’re not able to repair themselves and the lack of repair causes the algae to start releasing compounds that are toxic to the corals. The coral sees this as, “whew, we’ve gotta get rid of you because if we don’t, we’re both going,” and they will actually eject the algae out from their tissues. They move them into the guts, spit them out—it’s a literal gut-wrenching experience when they do this. They’re breaking up pieces of tissue to get rid of this, to slough it off.”

Daily 5-km Satellite Coral Bleaching Thermal Stress Monitoring How do I know when bleaching might happen? There’s a site for that! NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch
“The NOAA Coral Reef Watch program’s satellite data provide current reef environmental conditions to quickly identify areas at risk for coral bleaching..”



Hawaii Eyes of the Reef trainingWhat Can I Do? There are SO MANY ways you can help!

GOT Training?
Join an organization like Hawaii’s Eyes of the Reef Network, Guam Community Coral Reef Monitoring Program, Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN) BleachWatch, or Coral Watch. Help monitor and report coral bleaching in your area.

Bleached coral in American Samoa. NPSTeach others!
Check out these free lesson plans:

  • Coral Bleaching: A White Hot Problem – grades 9-12 from Bridge. Students “assess coral bleaching using water temperature data from the NOAA National Data Buoy Center.”
  • Caution: Do Not Bleach! – grades 9-12 from NOAA Ocean Service Education. Focuses on “Why are coral reefs important, and what are possible explanations for the phenomenon known as ‘coral bleaching?'”
  • Sea Surface Temperature and Coral Bleaching – grades 3-8 from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. “Students will learn about the anatomy of coral bleaching, how ocean temperature increase can be a cause of coral bleaching and will try to predict general areas likely to be affected by coral bleaching by interpreting sea surface temperature data.”
  • Coral Bleaching: Turning Up The Heat – grades 5-8 from the National Park of American Samoa. Students will be able to define global warming and adaptations and ID several coral reef species in American Samoa.

Now you know and as GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.” 😉