U.S. corals stressed about current events

Nathan Miller ·
20 November 2020

On Tuesday, November 10th, the Integration and Application Network (IAN) held a joint press event with NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) to celebrate the launch of the national coral reef status report. Years in the making, Coral reef condition: A status report for U.S. Coral Reefs synthesizes massive amounts of data to summarize the health of coral reefs in U.S. jurisdictions. The report includes marine, climate, and socioeconomic data. Designed to be accessible for the general public and policy makers, the report uses a health scale and visual elements to describe coral reefs in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Map of Atlantic and Pacific oceans with coral reef score wheels overlaid. Pacific Reefs received a score of 74% and Atlantic Reefs scored 70%.
Each U.S. jurisdiction's coral reefs were assessed against relevant reference points or benchmarks and given an overall score. The results of these assessments were combined to create the national document, with Pacific and Atlantic basin scores released on November 10, 2020. Image courtesy of UMCES-IAN.

Overall, the report paints a distressing picture of United States reefs, explicitly stating that, "Coral reefs are in fair condition, but are vulnerable and declining." The report describes why coral reefs are in declining health and vulnerable to further degradation. Climate change is a huge threat to coral reefs; warming oceans lead to coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Coral disease is another threat, and human impacts such as pollution and overfishing further decimate vulnerable reefs.

Alt text: Infographic of coral reef health continuum from “Very Good” to “Critical,” separated into three stages of coral health, that indicates U.S. reefs are currently in fair condition.
Infographics such as this one provide readers with a clear visual for reef condition. This graphic from the report shows that U.S. reefs are in fair condition. However, the health scale is multidirectional—with restoration, decreased fishing pressure and less pollution, coral reefs do have a chance to recover. Image courtesy of UMCES-IAN.

The release of this national status report is the culmination of over five years of collaboration between IAN and CRCP, who have coordinated with scientists and stakeholders across the country. Nine jurisdiction-specific coral status reports were published prior to this national report. For more information on these status reports, visit the Coral Reef Information System or IAN's own coral reef project page.

Partially underwater photo of a healthy coral reef in the American Samoa.
A healthy reef, like this one in the American Samoa, benefits human and marine systems alike. Photo credit: Shaun Wolfe, the Ocean Agency image bank.

About the author

Nathan Miller

Having studied Film and Television at NYU, Environmental Biology at Columbia, and my Environmental Management at Duke, I want to help make complex environmental research more relevant to resource users and policy makers through creative storytelling strategies. I’ve been lucky to work with organizations that let me explore best practices in science communication, be it as a video editor for the United Nations Development Program or as an Insect Zoo volunteer at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, where I currently get to teach visitors about arthropods (Let me know if you ever want to go to a tarantula feeding!). Off the clock, I enjoy reading, hiking, drinking coffee, chocolate chip cookies, and scrolling through Petfinder while dreaming of having a puppy!

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