Introduction to Coral Reefs in Peril
An ambitious plan to protect and study the coral reefs of the United States was announced in March 2000 by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. The task force, comprised of representatives from several federal agencies and led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Interior, began examining U.S. policies on reefs and threats to their health as a result of an executive order in June 1998 from President Bill Clinton. The new plan called for the government to designate 20 percent of U.S. coral reefs as “no-take” ecological reserves (areas in which all taking of marine organisms is prohibited) by 2010. The plan also provided for the mapping of all U.S. coral reefs by 2009 and the establishment of a comprehensive system of reef monitoring.
Throughout the 1990's scientists reported alarming changes in the world's coral reefs. The U.S. plan joined other international efforts to obtain a better understanding of coral reefs and to curb their further decline.
Coral reefs are one of the planet's most biologically diverse environments, harboring a vast number of species, including one-quarter of the world's known marine fishes. Coral reefs are also important to the economic well-being and the health of human populations. In Hawaii and the Florida Keys alone, tourism and other activities related to coral reefs provide more than $2 billion in annual revenue. Reefs act as barriers to incoming waves, protecting shorelines and coastal property from erosion and storm damage. People in many island nations around the world depend on the fish, shellfish, and other organisms that dwell in reefs as a primary source of food. And chemical compounds found in some coral reef organisms show promise as disease-fighting agents.