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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA's Efforts to Assess and Characterize U.S. Coral Reef Ecosystems

NOAA and its partners are working together to map and monitor U.S. coral reefs in order to provide valuable baseline and long-term data on the health and status of coral reef ecosystems.  Monitoring programs can track trends in coral reef health to reveal patterns in their condition before irreparable harm occurs.  Long-term monitoring is also essential to the efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of management actions.

In 2004, the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program established the Coral Reef Ecosystem Integrated Observing System (CREIOS) to join together NOAA capabilities in coral reef observation. CREIOS includes a range of NOAA coral reef observation efforts and helps NOAA better meet the needs of reef managers for information on the condition of coral reef health by integrating observations from local to global scales, including in-situ monitoring, mapping, and global satellite image processing.


Detailed maps provide important information about the extent and structure of coral reef ecosystems.  These maps are a critical aspect of effectively managing coastal resources, designing research activities, identifying essential fish habitat, conducting damage assessments, tracking status and trends, and evaluating results of management efforts.  NOAA and its partners are using a variety of technologies to map all U.S. shallow water coral reef ecosystems and associated deeper reefs.  The National Coral Reef Action Strategy (NAS) calls for the completion of U.S. shallow water coral reef mapping by 2009. 

NOAA has made significant progress towards this goal.  In the U.S, comprehensive coral reef habitat maps for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa have been completed. In the Main Hawaiian Islands and Florida, NOAA and its partners are developing comprehensive digital coral reef ecosystem benthic habitat maps, and in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), NOAA is updating positional accuracy data for several atolls and islands in the area to provide more accurate navigational charts. 

Currently, digital shallow water benthic habitat maps have been published and distributed for over 10,500 km2 of shallow water coral reef ecosystem habitat.  These maps are being used by coastal managers, scientists, and educational groups in the jurisdictions.  NOAA’s deeper water mapping and characterization activities have revealed tropical reefs at greater depths than previously known and improved our understanding of the contribution of these habitats to fisheries.


Monitoring allows managers to assess reef conditions, diagnose reef problems, prioritize and implement solutions, evaluate the results of management decisions, and forecast future conditions.  The NAS calls for an integrated, nationwide coral reef monitoring system to profile and track the health of U.S. coral reefs ecosystems. This system will be used to measure the effectiveness of management actions.  NOAA has completed a number of actions to enhance monitoring and assessment of U.S. coral reef resources. 

NOAA conducts annual and biennial coral reef ecosystem monitoring cruises to a number of coral reef areas in the U.S.  In addition, both large-scale satellite monitoring programs, such as Coral Reef Watch (CRW), and small-scale local monitoring projects are conducted each year to track changes in coral reef ecosystems and to increase predictive capabilities. 

As part of coral reef monitoring efforts and to meet the requirements of the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, NOAA reports biennially on the status of coral reefs in the United States.  To date, two reports have been released which provide comprehensive information on reefs throughout the U.S.  These reports are produced with numerous partners at the local, state and territory, and federal level.  The reports can be accessed at CoRIS Data & Publications.

Data Dissemination

An important component of any effort to collect data is the corresponding effort to share the data with managers, researchers and the interested public.  As data becomes available and is processed into usable forms, the CRCP shares that data through workshops, newsletters, reports and other publications.  Data and information products from the CRCP are available on-line through the NOAA Coral Reef Information System (CoRIS).

Categories of Activities:
Data Dissemination