2023 Featured Stories


Successful Pacific coral reef and mapping mission honoring NOAA leader comes to end

NOAA Ship Rainier

RICHARD stands for Rainier Integrates Charting Hydrography and Reef Demographics and refers to a first-of-its-kind collaborative mission between NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program and NOAA's Office of Coast Survey that occurred over two years in two Pacific Islands regions—the Marianas archipelago in 2022 and American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Island Areas in 2023. Rear Admiral Richard Brennan was the greatest champion of this mission, and the two cruises would not have been possible without his vision and leadership.


US Virgin Islands hosts the 47th US Coral Reef Task Force Meeting

Several people sit in a row behind a table, with a large sign displayed in front of them saying “US Coral Reef Task Force USVI”.

The United States Virgin Islands hosted a successful U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Meeting in October 2023 that showcased local projects, partners, and resources while fostering national coordination on coral reef issues and initiatives.


International meeting brings global leaders together to address coral reef conservation

Painting of fish on a coral reef

The United States hosted the 37th General Meeting of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) from September 18th-23rd, 2023 in Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i. ICRI is a global partnership working to preserve and protect coral reefs. The key goals of the meeting were to discuss the achievements of ICRI and its members, share knowledge and experiences, and drive the implementation of the 2021 – 2024 Plan of Action: Turning the Tide for Coral Reefs.



NOAA unveils new tool for exploring national coral reef monitoring data

A SCUBA diver writes on an underwater slate while hovering over a number of corals.

NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP) launched a new data visualization tool on NOAA's Geoplatform for shallow tropical coral reef ecosystem data, which provides free and easy-to-access information on the status and trends of U.S. coral reefs.



Finfish fact sheets aim to maintain healthy fisheries in Micronesia

A school of white fish with black stripes with some black fish.

The Pacific Islands Managed and Protected Area Community (PIMPAC) has developed species fact sheets on 30 finfish species that are common and important fisheries species in Micronesia. This information can help inform management measures to maintain healthy fisheries.


Using underwater medicine to prevent disease-related mortality on corals in Dry Tortugas National Parks

Side-by-side photos showing a close up of numerous corals covering a substrate. On the left, white arrows point to areas of recent mortality that are a lighter color than the adjacent live tissue. On the right, the corals have been treated, as shown by white paste around the lighter color spots.

As corals in Dry Tortugas national park were being ravaged by an unprecedented disease, the NOAA-NFWF Coral Emergency Response Fund was used to quickly and efficiently implement intervention cruises that treated over 12,500 actively diseased corals, potentially saving up to 331,000 coral outplants.



Socioeconomic Monitoring for Mission: Iconic Reefs


A new socioeconomic monitoring program will assess the effects of coral restoration on reef users, human communities, and ecosystem services.


Charting a course for coral conservation: Lessons learned from the U.S. Regional Caribbean Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Workshop

A hand holding a black and white sea urchin above a tank filled with sea urchins and green algae.

Coral reef researchers and managers from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida met together in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the 2023 U.S. Regional Caribbean Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) Workshop. The workshop aimed to share information and experiences across the jurisdictions, improve coordination of U.S. Caribbean coral disease response efforts, and enhance collaboration on coral rescue and communications.


More Than $910,000 Recommended for Ruth Gates Coral Restoration Innovation Grants Projects

Orange-brown branching coral mixed in with light tan feather-like coral on a sandy seafloor.

NOAA is committed to working with partners to save and restore the world’s coral reefs. To support this mission, we have recommended funding for one new project and have awarded continued funding to four ongoing, multi-year projects under the Ruth Gates Coral Restoration Innovation Grants. The 2023 recommended and awarded funding totals approximately $913,000. It will support projects that enhance coral resilience and improve the long-term success and efficiency of shallow-water coral reef restoration in a changing climate.


Socioeconomic Monitoring for Mission: Iconic Reefs

A mix of yellow and brown corals in different shapes and sizes.

In the Florida Keys, the reef forms the foundation of the region's identity, providing habitat for ecologically and economically important species and drawing visitors seeking to dive, snorkel, and fish. All of these benefits rely on healthy coral reef ecosystems, but this reef, along with many of our reefs, is threatened by pollution, climate change, coral disease, and more. In response, Mission: Iconic Reefs is underway to change the trajectory of the health of seven iconic coral reefs in Florida.



Strategic Planning for Protected Area Capacity-building and Conservation in the Pacific

Pacific Island shoreline

The Pacific Islands Managed and Protected Area Community (PIMPAC) is a long-term capacity-building program and a community of managers collaborating to enhance protected area management in partnership with local communities in the Pacific. It was created in 2005 and provides capacity-building opportunities to community members and government and non-government staff from Hawaii, Guam, CNMI, American Samoa, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.



Fishermen, surfers, and scientists unite to restore degraded reefs in Hawai'i

Underwater photo of two divers hovering over a metal grate on the sea floor with coral fragments on it while holding pieces of coral and a crate of fragments. A small squid photo bombs the right side of the photo

Similar to reefs around the world, the coral reefs of Hawai'i are being degraded and lost due to human impacts. This degradation decreases reef biodiversity, fisheries, and overall ecosystem health. On O'ahu in particular, reef health directly impacts economic livelihoods, through fisheries, biodiversity, tourism, and coastal protection. However, open ocean swells and an active fishing sector means restoration techniques must be tailored to the unique environment there. As a result, Kuleana Coral Restoration (KCR) was founded by fishers, surfers, and scientists to pair traditional knowledge with scientific techniques to restore West O'ahu reefs and cultivate reef resilience.


Rapid response to coral emergencies requires a novel funding source

Photo of a white pleasure boat listing on its side in shallow water (left), photo of a brown rocklike coral with a large white area on it (middle), photo of a group of dark brown chunks of coral adhered to light brown squares sit in an aquarium tank (right)

Coral reef conservation requires a multi-pronged approach from protection of pristine coral areas to restoration of significantly degraded areas. As part of their approach, coral managers need to have the ability to respond quickly to a disaster, be it natural or man-made. Hurricane relief funds and resources to respond to ship groundings come to mind. One very clear stressor that needs emergency help is coral disease, specifically Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in Florida and the Caribbean.


Lexie Sturm: The Coral Program's 2023 Knauss Fellow

A diver hovers over a shallow coral reef with a notepad and pen in hand.

In February, we welcomed our 2023 Knauss fellow, Lexie Sturm. Lexie is sponsored by Florida Sea Grant and received her Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Lexie's fascination with coral reefs started from a young age when she first learned how to snorkel (with arm floaties on because she still couldn't fully swim!).



Restoring corals after physical damage from vessel groundings and natural disasters

 An aerial view of a deserted tropical coastline. A large white boat is half submerged in shallow water. A smaller yellow boat sits on the surface next to it.

Since 2006, the NOAA Restoration Center has performed restoration at 142 sites in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and reattached over 60,000 corals, many of which are listed as endangered or threatened.


Coral nurseries are helping to restore coral reefs in Saipan, CNMI

A scuba diver swims through clear water where white tree-like structures are anchored to the seafloor.

While Saipan, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, seems remote, the coral reefs are threatened by bleaching and crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks. To help corals recover from past events, corals are being grown in nurseries in Saipans lagoon and then outplanted on degraded reefs.



Coral Management Fellow Contributes to Hawai'i Division of Aquatic Resources' Makai Restoration Plan

An aerial view of a coral reef covered in brown polluted water in the foreground and a mountainous coastline in the background. Offshore, the water is clear aquamarine and there are storm clouds in the distance.

Bert Weeks, National Coral Reef Management Fellowship class of 2020-2021, was born and raised in Hawai'i on the Island of O'ahu and returned home after completing his master's degree at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. During his two-year fellowship, he worked at the State of Hawai'i Department of LandT and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR). One of his focus areas was to improve coral restoration in Hawai'i through the creation of a state-wide coral restoration action plan.



Data Management on the High Seas

View of a large ship docked with the sunset in the background and a person walking in front of it.

As a Data and Information Manageme,nt Specialist for the Coral Reef Information System (CoRIS), I am used to looking at the results of a research project — after all files have been assembled into neatly organized "data packages". Everything can be done online, so we data managers rarely get a chance to leave the office for fieldwork like other scientists.