In celebration of the 40th Earth Day, Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco will participate in a dive at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Key Largo, Florida to celebrate coral reef restoration projects that are employing local people and helping to restore degraded reefs.
Throughout Earth Week, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and other NOAA dignitaries will celebrate at eight of the 50 coastal and Great Lakes habitat restoration projects funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, including two coral reef restoration projects. NOAA provided $167 million in Recovery Act funding to 50 high-quality, high-priority coastal restoration projects around the country. The efforts are helping to jump-start the nation's economy by supporting thousands of jobs as well as restore fish and wildlife habitat that people often take for granted.
Threatened Coral Reef Recovery and Restoration—Florida Keys
With the support of local partners, NOAA was able to hire people quickly using Recovery Act funding to do the critical work of collecting, rearing, and ultimately transplanting genetically diverse nursery-grown coral fragments to help replenish 34 degraded reefs in eight distinct areas of coral reefs in the Florida Keys and the US Virgin Islands. The total restoration area covers 34,000 square meters—that's roughly 136 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Restoring coral reefs is even more important since so many are severely threatened by climate change, the impacts of fishing activities, and land-based sources of pollution. Over time, restoration of these coral reefs will help recover the threatened Acropora coral species and lead to increased fish populations that use the reefs for shelter, food, and breeding sites. In addition, coral reefs also act as natural breakwaters, protecting shorelines from erosion and storm damage.
The Importance of Coral Reef Restoration
Coral reefs are incredibly rich with life. Although they only cover about one-tenth of one percent of the ocean floor, they provide habitat for more than 25 percent of marine species. This astounding biodiversity rivals that of the rainforests.
Not only do reefs play a critical role as habitat, they are also an integral part of southeast Florida's economy. Reef-related expenditures generate nearly $4 billion dollars in sales in the southeast Florida region annually. Nationwide, NOAA Fisheries Service estimates the annual commercial and recreational value of US fisheries from coral reefs to be more than $200 million.
Maunalua Bay Reef Restoration Project—Maunalua Bay, Hawai`i
NOAA provided $3.4 million in Recovery Act funding to The Nature Conservancy and in cooperation with community non-profit Mālama Maunalua for the project. This effort will work in Maunalua Bay, Hawai`i to restore coral reefs through manual removal of invasive alien algae from 22 acres of nearshore waters. The restored hard limestone and sand bottom will enable seagrass expansion and juvenile coral recruitment throughout the bay. Pono Pacific Land Management, LLC, a local natural resources management company, was awarded the contract to hire 50 workers to remove 2,000 tons of mudweed from the most infested areas of Maunalua Bay over a twelve-month period.
When complete, this project will provide significant ecological benefits and transform existing small-scale community removal efforts already underway into a large-scale removal model. Local communities will experience first-hand how their efforts can succeed at a larger and more biologically meaningful scale, while also employing bay residents and engaging a larger proportion of businesses and families in stewardship of the area.
Though still beautiful, Maunalua Bay's health is suffering. Once a thriving bay, today it is filled with invasive algae called, "leather mudweed." As recently as 1988, large areas of the bay were clear and healthy, but today hundreds of acres are covered with mudweed.
Mudweed smothers shallow reef flats, killing off coral and native seagrass meadows. It also traps land-based sediment in the bay and destroys habitat for native marine life, from fish like parrotfish to invertebrates like octopus.