Featured Archive - 2015 Publications

Below is a sampling of publications generated by NOAA's coral ecosystem activities in 2015. To access a complete list of NOAA coral ecosystem related publications, use the CoRIS Geoportal
( search tool.

Shallow-Water Benthic Habitats of Northeast Puerto Rico and Culebra Island

This report describes the development and assessment of shallow-water (<35 m) benthic habitat maps for Northeast Puerto Rico and Culebra Island. The objective of this effort, conducted by NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) in partnership with the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA), was to provide spatially-explicit information describing the benthic habitat types and live coral cover present in and around the Northeast Reserves, a region selected by local managers as a priority area. The habitat map, generated using a combination of semi-automated classification and visual interpretation techniques, represent the first digital maps that describe nearly 100% of the seafloor in the area. The effort also marks the first time a high resolution satellite mosaic representing the seafloor has been provided for the full extent of this location, as well as a multi-resolution depth model combining all available hydrographic data in the region.

Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative for Coastal Management (SocMon/SEM-Pasificka). Strategic Plan: 2015-2019

This (first ever) strategic plan was developed to identify and prioritize the way forward for advancing a global and regional understanding of human interactions with and dependence on coastal resources. The strategic plan reflects the input from coordinators from the regional nodes, key stakeholders and partners interested in improving the integration of human dimensions monitoring into wider coastal ecosystem monitoring efforts. The plan presents a vision for short, medium and long term expectations for the Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative (SocMon).

A Synthesis of Issues Affecting the Management of Coral Reefs and Recommendations for Long-Term Capacity Building in U.S. Jurisdictions

This document was prepared as a brief synthesis of common issues identified across the seven jurisdictions documents and includes potential short and long-term strategies to build adaptive capacity at the scale of the network of jurisdictions. While this synthesis document was commissioned by and prepared for the Coral Reef Conservation Program, they cannot be expected to be the sole lead in a capacity building program to improve coral reef management. The intended audience for this document is therefore the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, the All Islands Committee, as well as all state and local government agencies and the non-governmental and academic communities involved in coral reef management who contribute capacity to address these persistent issues.

Guidance for an Epidemiological Strategy and Establishing a Disease Surveillance Network for Caribbean Acropora palmata

Acropora palmata was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in May 2006 (71 FR 26852). In 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed the reclassification of A. palmata (77 FR 73219) as endangered, but determined in 2014, that they would remain listed as threatened under the ESA (79 FR 53852). This coral is present only in the Caribbean where its existence is threatened by infectious pathogens, pollution, and human activities. There is a critical need to conserve remaining stocks of corals, but the status of this species is unknown in many regions in the Caribbean because the capacity to assess their condition and monitor reefs is lacking. This is particularly challenging in many Caribbean locations (e.g., small island countries). With limited financial and personnel resources, these managers lack access to a coordinated network of collaborators. The goal of this workshop was to provide methods that can assist coral reef managers, particularly those with limited resources, to assess and manage the health of their respective coral populations with a focus on A. palmata as a sentinel species.

Evaluation of Marine Outreach and Education USVI Style Initiative: Improving Fishing Community Awareness and Compliance

This report shares findings from the evaluation of the 2015 Marine Outreach and Education U.S. Virgin Islands Style Initiative's (MOES-VI) Improving Fishing Community Awareness and Compliance Project (IFCACP) commercial fisher registration workshops held in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), during the second week of July, and in St. Thomas, USVI, during the third week of July. Blue Earth Consultants, with guidance from the IFCACP's steering committee, assessed the effectiveness of the new fisher registration process and training module. The following report aims to help inform Department of Planning and Natural Resources, NOAA Fisheries and NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program as they make adjustments and refinements to their MOES-VI IFCACP program and workshops. The report describes the development and implementation of the evaluation methodology and tool, the results of the evaluations completed by fishers, Blue Earth staff observations during the workshops, recommendations for changes or improvements to the fisher registration and workshop processes as well as insights on fishers' perspectives on fisheries management and enforcement effectiveness in the USVI.

A Strategy for a Healthy Gulf of Mexico: Resilience Through Ecosystem Restoration

This document identifies general priorities and actions where NOAA seeks to use its collective mandates, science, management and policy expertise to collaborate with our state, federal, academic, industry and NGO partners (regional and national) to help restore the Gulf ecosystem and economy and extend our commitment to a Gulf-wide, ecosystem-scale approach to recovery and restoration.

Assessing relative resilience potential of coral reefs to inform management in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Coral reef managers face the challenge of reducing vulnerability to the effects of climate change by reducing other sources of stress to support the resilience of reef systems. Resilience-based management (RBM) has been developed to overcome the challenges of reducing vulnerability in this era of rapid change. RBM of coral reefs can include assessing spatial variation in resilience potential and then targeting and tailoring appropriate actions, which is the focus of the project reported on here. In CNMI, undertaking resilience-based management became a priority following a bleaching event in 2000, which caused 60-70% coral mortality in some locations, and a less severe bleaching event in 2005 that coincided with an outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish. This project report: provides further background both to this project and ecological resilience assessments in reef areas, describes our methods for assessing the various resilience indicators and anthropogenic stressors, shares highlights of our results and progress towards each of the objectives, identifies next steps, and has an appendix with tables and map graphics that expand upon the content within the main report. This report includes Site Summaries; 1-page overviews for each of the 84 sites we surveyed of the field data, resilience assessment results and the results of the queries that identify targets for various types of management actions.

Southeast Florida Coral Reef Fishery-Independent Baseline Assessment: 2012-2014 Summary Report

This study uses reef visual census (RVC) fish count data from three years to provide a regional baseline fishery-independent assessment of reef fish species composition and relative abundance in southeast Florida. Preliminary comparisons of reef fish population parameters to long-term data sets from the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas are made in this report. Using the southeast Florida RVC data with the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas data sets allows natural resource managers and researchers to evaluate reef fish status and trends along the entire Florida reef tract for the first time.

Summary Report: The Economic Value of U.S. Coral Reefs

This report presents brief, non-technical summaries of coral reef valuation studies for each of the seven US coral reef jurisdictions the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program funded from 2001 to 2011. While all the studies were economic valuation studies, they each may have used slightly different approaches. Notwithstanding the application of slightly different methodological approaches which produce different ranges of values, the results and findings in each study support and confirm that coral reefs provide significant benefits to society. Understanding the value of coral reefs therefore provides information that can be used to improve the allocation of resources to ensure conservation.

The Total Economic Value of U.S. Coral Reefs: A Review of the Literature

This literature review and meta-analysis summarized the valuation studies that were conducted from 2001 to 2011 for all seven U.S. coral reef jurisdictions. The estimated total economic value of coral reef services for the US as a whole is just over US$ 3.4 billion per year. This value is considered to be a partial estimate due to (1) the limited geographical coverage of some state/ territory level TEV estimates, and (2) the limited set of services that are valued for some states and territories.

The State of Deep-Sea Coral and Sponge Ecosystems of the United States: 2015

Since NOAA published the 2007 State of Deep Coral Ecosystems report, many deep-sea coral research and management efforts have taken place. This 2015 publication presents these exciting advances. Like the 2007 report, we have regional chapters describing the distribution and ecology of the deep-sea coral ecosystems, but we also include sponges in the scope. These are interspersed with spotlight chapters that explore a number of cross-cutting topics in deep-sea coral and sponge research. The prepublication edition of some chapters is now released. Please come back later as more chapters are added in the coming months.

Climatology Development for NOAA Coral Reef Watch's 5-km Product Suite

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch (CRW) program has used a 50-km resolution "Heritage" analysis of satellite sea surface temperature (SST) observations to monitor coral reef thermal stress for more than 15 years. The most frequently requested upgrade by coral reef managers and scientists has been for increased spatial resolution. The recent operational production of a satellite-based, global SST analysis at 5-km resolution has provided the basis for high-resolution monitoring of thermal conditions not only in oceanic waters, but also with increased coverage at and near coral reef locations. Evaluating thermal stress on coral reefs requires knowledge of historical baseline temperature (climatology) at the same spatial resolution to identify and assess anomalous temperatures. This report documents the development of a 5-km SST climatology for use with the 5-km SST analysis.

Enhancing Socioeconomic Monitoring to Support Conservation of Coral Reef and Near Shore Resources in Thailand

The intent of this project was to strengthen the local capacity of communities in socioeconomic assessment and monitoring to improve coral reef management and the livelihoods and well-being of coastal communities in Thailand. The approach was to adapt socioeconomic assessment tools (SocMon SEA and SEM-Pasifika) with local stakeholders to be relevant to communities.

Namdrik Atoll. Coral-Reef Resources Monitoring Assessment

Scientifically-sound, marine resource assessments form the backbone for resource management discussions and decisions. Similar to many atolls, it is not understood if fishery resources and coral-reef ecosystem conditions have been stable on Namdrik because no quantitative studies exist to describe their dynamics through time. Within this document, we provide a deeper look into the results of a recent marine resource assessment resulting in a more detailed assessment of individual reefs around Namdrik, and describe the status of marine resources at the eight survey locations visited.The Micronesia Challenge (MC) is a long-term commitment by NOAA social scientists working with regional Pacific governments in the Pacific to "effectively conserve at least 30% of nearshore marine resources and 20% of terrestrial resources by the year 2020." To track and assess the progress of the MC's conservation initiatives, each MC jurisdiction is tasked with monitoring and connecting its social, economic, and biological indicators.

Micronesia Challenge: Socio-economic Pilot Study, Palau

The Micronesia Challenge (MC) is a long-term commitment by NOAA social scientists working with regional Pacific governments in the Pacific to "effectively conserve at least 30% of nearshore marine resources and 20% of terrestrial resources by the year 2020." This study enabled the development of a socioeconomic monitoring protocol for Palau’s PAN sites. The methods and indicators used in this pilot study will be refined and implemented across all the MC/PAN (Micronesia Challenge/Protected Areas Network) jurisdictions.

Transport Pathways of Marine Larvae Around the Mariana Archipelago

The overall goal of the assessment was to evaluate ocean currents as a mechanism of transport and to compare connectivity among larvae with different life-history characteristics using computer simulations. Cumulative connectivity over a recent 9 year span was investigated for the entire region. Island roles as larval sources and destinations, as well as self-seeding versus larval import, were evaluated for each of the Marianas. For Guam and Saipan, the two most populous islands, the seasonal and inter-annual variation in larval supply was examined.

An Assessment of Nutrients, Sedimentation, and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) in the St. Thomas East End Reserves (STEER)

The purpose of this project is to assess land-based sources of pollution (LBSP) and their effects, and to characterize the biological community within the St. Thomas East End Reserves (STEER) in St. Thomas, USVI. The results of nearly two years of monthly monitoring for nutrients, sedimentation, and total suspended solids (TSS) at six sites in the STEER are summarized.

Watershed Scale Planning to Reduce Land-Based Sources of Pollution (LBSP) for the Protection of Coral Reefs in Southeast Florida: An Overview and Data Gap Assessment

This project provides an assessment framework for evaluating the impacts of land-based sources of pollution (LBSP) on the coral reef ecosystem in southeast coastal waters of Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties. Rapid population growth and intense increases in land development in this region over the past 50-100 years have put the coral reef ecosystem and supporting estuarine habitats under significant stress. Pollutants from these land-based human activities include nutrients (e.g. nitrogen and phosphorus), sediments, pathogens pharmaceutical and personal care products, and other LBSPs. These pollutants are discharged to the southeast Florida coastal ecosystem in large part in stormwater runoff (both urban and agricultural) and wastewater effluent and the management of stormwater and wastewater in southeast Florida affects the pollutants loads and ecosystem impacts. The purpose of this document is to assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) partners in tackling the problems associated with LBSP by identifying sources of pollution, data availability and gaps, and sources of information from past planning and management activities in southeastern Florida. This report creates a watershed-based framework for understanding and assessing the pollutant sources and loads, and uses nine coastal inlets in the region as the basis for defining the contributing watersheds. This report will provide a roadmap for future LBSP-related data collection and pollution reduction efforts in southeast Florida.

Climate Change Strategy and Implementation Plan, 2014-2016

Climate change and ocean acidification have been identified as the most important global threat to coral reefs. In Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability coral reefs, along with the Arctic Sea, are identified as systems that are uniquely threatened even if additional temperature rise is held to 2°C rise. This publication refines and builds upon the Coral Reef Conservation Program Goals and Objectives 2010-2015 to direct Program investments in reducing the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification to coral reef ecosystems.

Coral Reef Resilience Research and Management: Past, Present and Future!

The Coral Reef Resilience Research and Management - Past, Present and Future! Workshop was held November 4-6, 2014 in Honolulu, Hawaii and was attended by scientists and managers from management agencies, universities, and conservation organizations. Facilitated discussions focused on five themes that were collaboratively set with participants prior to the workshop to cover both existing research funded by the CRCP and new research opportunities and management needs. The themes were: Mapping Environmental Disturbance/Exposure; Field Based Resilience Assessments (includes Herbivorous Fish); Connectivity; Land-based Sources of Pollution; and Managers Use of Resilience Assessments and Reporting. A sixth crosscutting theme, Training and Capacity Building, was also discussed during each of the theme sessions and during a concluding session. Priority next steps for a ‘Social-Ecological Resilience’ theme were identified for a future workshop.

Framework for the National System of Marine Protected Areas of the United States of America

The purpose of this document is to provide a framework for developing and implementing a National System of MPAs; it is not a blueprint for the establishment of individual MPAs. To provide a blueprint for building the National System of MPAs, the Presidential Executive Order 13158 of May 26, 2000 called for the development of a framework for a National System of MPAs and directed the establishment of a National MPA Center (MPA Center) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to lead the system’s development and implementation. The Framework for the National System of MPAs of the United States of America (Framework) was originally developed between 2005 and 2008, with extensive input from federal and state MPA agencies, the public, and the MPA Federal Advisory Committee (MPA FAC). This updated Framework reflects the experience of the National System based on its implementation since November 2008, as well as additional recommendations from the MPA FAC.

Human, Oceanographic and Habitat Drivers of Central and Western Pacific Coral Reef Fish Assemblages

In this study, staff of NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and colleagues examine the relative influence of multiple human, oceanographic and environmental factors on coral reef fish biomass at nearly 40 US and US-affiliated Pacific islands and atolls. Biological data comes from consistent large-scale ecosystem monitoring from the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program, which is part of NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program. In total, the survey involves over 2,000 hours of underwater observation by divers at 1,934 sites. Consistent with previous smaller-scale studies, results show sharp declines in reef fish biomass at relatively low human population density, followed by more gradual declines as human population density increased further. Adjusting for other factors, the highest levels of oceanic productivity among study locations were associated with more than double the biomass of reef fishes (including about 4 times the biomass of planktivores and piscivores) compared to islands with lowest oceanic productivity. Results emphasize that coral reef areas do not all have equal ability to sustain large reef fish stocks, and that what is  natural varies significantly amongst locations. Comparisons of biomass estimates derived from visual surveys with predicted biomass in the absence of humans indicated that total reef fish biomass was depleted by 61% to 69% at populated islands in the Mariana Archipelago; by 20% to 78% in the Main Hawaiian islands; and by 21% to 56% in American Samoa.

Managing Herbivores for their Impacts on Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems: A summary Report for Managers and Practitioners

Caribbean reefs have suffered unprecedented declines over the last several decades due to a variety of factors. Some of the most rapid and dramatic changes occurred following the region-wide die-off of the sea urchin, Diadema antillarum, in the mid-1980s, which resulted in the proliferation of algae on many reefs, especially those with few herbivorous fishes. Thirty years later, Diadema remain rare in most locations, algae are abundant on many reefs, and there is concern that fisheries targeting herbivorous fishes, especially parrotfishes, are compromising the function of many reef ecosystems. In some locations, such as the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, Bahamas, robust populations of herbivorous fishes have been associated with elevated coral recruitment and positive reef trajectories. Yet other reefs, such as those in the Florida Keys, show no signs of recovery despite abundant herbivore populations. The emerging picture suggests that impacts of herbivores on coral recovery are likely to be highly context-dependent, and that management actions targeting herbivores will vary in their ability to facilitate coral persistence and recovery.  This report, which summarizes information from a larger scientific review (Adam et al. 2015), is intended to serve as a guide on how to manage herbivore populations to facilitate healthy, resilient coral reefs.

Recovery Plan for Elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn (A. cervicornis) Corals

The purpose of this recovery plan is to identify a strategy for rebuilding and assuring the long-term viability of elkhorn coral and staghorn coral populations in the wild. The goal, objectives, and criteria represent our expectation of what is needed to increase the abundance and to protect the genetic diversity of elkhorn and staghorn coral populations throughout their geographical ranges and ultimately to remove these two coral species from the list of endangered and threatened species. Recovery criteria can be viewed as targets, or values, by which progress toward achievement of recovery objectives can be measured.

In this report, the Population-based Recovery Criteria (criteria 1-3) represent what recovered species would look like. The Threat-based Recovery Criteria (criteria 4-10) represent the conditions needed to abate the impacts of threats identified as contributing to the species’ threatened status and allow them to sustain a recovered status.

Representativeness of Marine Protected Areas of the United States

This analysis of representativeness in 1,628 MPAs is based upon the presence/absence of major habitat types, key natural resources and ecologically important areas and processes. This report assesses two aspects of representativeness in MPAs in United States waters : (i) the presence of MPAs in the 19 marine ecoregions of U.S. waters; and, (ii) the presence and representativeness in those MPAs of major habitat types (e.g., corals, seagrass, rocky intertidal, submarine canyons), key natural resources (e.g., invertebrates, fish, marine mammals, birds), and ecologically important areas and processes (e.g., fish spawning, bird nesting and upwelling areas and feeding grounds).

Fish and Benthic Communities of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary: Science to support Sanctuary Management

This report is the culmination of three years of fish and seafloor (benthic) invertebrate community observations on the East and West Flower Garden Banks. It provides baseline information on key biological communities, and can be utilized to address resource management priorities in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS).

Characterization of Deep-coral and Sponge Communities in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary: Rittenburg Bank, Cochrane Bank, and the Farallon Escarpment

Benthic surveys were conducted in the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS) aboard R/V Fulmar, October 3-11, 2012 using the large observation-class remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Beagle. The purpose of the surveys was to groundtruth mapping data collected in 2011, and to characterize the seafloor biota, particularly corals and sponges, in order to support Essential Fish Habitat designations under Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) and other conservation and management goals under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA).

Design and Parameterization of a Coral Reef Ecosystem Model for Guam

Management on an ecosystem scale has proven to be a useful strategy to conserve, manage, and restore marine systems. Implementing ecosystem-based management requires an understanding of the complex and often synergistic dynamics of coral reefs, including the role of humans in the ecosystem. The Atlantis modeling framework integrates physical, chemical, ecological, and anthropogenic processes in a three dimensional, spatially explicit domain and can serve as a useful decision-support tool for ecosystem-based coral reef management. The Atlantis ecosystem model has successfully been applied to investigate ecosystem-based fisheries management scenario evaluations and ecological questions in Australia and North America. In this report we describe the construction of the Guam Atlantis Coral Reef Ecosystem Model. Atlantis incorporates various submodels that each have their own set of parameters and variables. Here we describe the details of each model component and present the parameterizations of the spatial and ecological submodels. The ultimate goal of the fully developed model is to provide a tool to evaluate management strategy scenarios against a backdrop of climate and ocean change.