THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PROTECTING CORAL REEFS
To strengthen protection of natural coral reefs in U.S. waters, President Clinton is signing an executive order directing federal agencies to expand research, preservation and restoration activities. The President is proposing an additional $6 million through 2002 to speed these efforts and complete restoration of 18 damaged reefs in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific.
Coral reefs are among the most exquisite -- and most endangered -- ecosystems on Earth. As a foundation of the tourism, recreation and fishing industries, coral reefs sustain billions of dollars in economic activity. Often described as the marine equivalents of the rainforest, coral reefs support a stunning diversity and abundance of undersea life. Thousands ofspecies have yet to be catalogued, so their potential value -- as life-saving medicines, for instance -- remains undiscovered.
Yet around the world, coral reefs are suffering the effects of pollution, development, overfishing and rising ocean temperatures brought on by global warming. This degradation threatens both the reefs and the economies they sustain. In 1994, with leadership from Vice President Gore, the United States founded the International Coral Reef Initiative to mobilize efforts to protect and restore these fragile reefs. Global attention was further heightened in 1997, which was declared the International Year of the Coral Reef.
To strengthen U.S. efforts and encourage similar action by other nations, the new Executive Order on Coral Reef Protection:
Directs agencies to ensure that no action they authorize or fund will degrade coral reefs in U.S. waters. Creates an interagency Coral Reef Task Force, headed by the secretaries of the Interior and Commerce, to coordinate implementation of coral reef policy. Directs the task force to coordinate a comprehensive program to map, monitor and assess the health of U.S. coral reefs; research the major causes and consequences of coral reef damage; and develop strategies to reduce damage and restore ailing reefs. Directs the State Department and other agencies to take action to promote conservation and sustainable use of coral reef resources, building on the success of the International Coral Reef Initiative.
The Executive Order and proposed funding increase, together with ongoing efforts, will allow the completion of 18 restoration projects -- nine in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, two elsewhere in Florida, two in the Virgin Islands, three in Puerto Rico, one in Guam, and one in Hawaii.