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NCCOS Research Project

Linking Coral Reefs, Coastal Watersheds, and Human Communities in the Pacific Islands: Using a Science to Management Approach

Primary Contact(s): felix.martinez@noaa.gov
This project began in September 2009 and was completed in August 2015

Our research project combines ecological studies, physical oceanographic research, and social science to reduce human impacts (e.g., runoff, sediment, and non-point source pollution) that threaten the coastal coral reefs of the Pacific islands of Micronesia.

Why We Care
As with coral reefs worldwide, those found in the Pacific island nation of the Federated States of Micronesia are declining as a result of stress from manmade events. Because these islands are so small, activities conducted within watersheds there have an almost immediate effect on coastal coral reefs. Runoff, sedimentation, and non-point source pollution are among the greatest threats to reefs and reef fisheries there and throughout the Pacific Basin. The societal costs of coral-reef degradation resulting from land-based developments are great, especially considering the importance of coral reefs on island economies and cultures.

What We Are Doing
Our work focuses on using integrated ecological studies, physical oceanographic research, and social science to confront problems identified as priorities by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force—particularly human disturbances creating the greatest impact on coral reefs. This information is being translated for regional island educational outreach. Outcomes of the research in the form of data and model tools are expected long after the project funding has ended.

This work is part of the Regional Ecosystem Prediction Program: From Science to Management. It is led by Robert H. Richmond, University of Hawaii. Project partners include Palau International Coral Reef Center, Conservation Society of Pohnpei, University of Guam, Yap Institute of Natural Science, and Palau Conservation Society.

What We Have Accomplished
Our project is making a difference. Thus far, our results and educational outreach formed the basis for:

  1. a moratorium on clearing and grading mangroves in Airai Bay, Palau;
  2. proposed national legislation before the Palau National Congress;
  3. efforts for watershed protection in Umatac Bay, Guam;
  4. the establishment of watershed and marine-protected areas in the Enipein area, Pohnpei;
  5. the US Coral Reef Task Force’s resolution on coral spawning;
  6. the coral reef policy for the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy; and
  7. watershed protection training for Guam.

Information from the project has also been used in coral reef damage assessment cases, reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act, and the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures.

Next Steps
The successes in the Pacific Islands will be used as a model by NOAA and other federal agencies for using community-based political will to gain meaningful legislative support in other locales.  Applications to Hawaii, Florida, and the Caribbean will be facilitated.

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