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Overview

Why is this issue important?

fanCoral reefs possess the greatest ecological complexity and biodiversity among marine ecosystems, and represent an invaluable economic and recreational resource. However, the integrity of coral reefs is threatened by numerous human-induced and natural stresses including land-based sources of pollution, climate change (coral bleaching), over-harvesting of important reef fish and coral species, and storms. Multiple stressors can combine to create a larger ecosystem effect that further degrades coral reef health. For instance, overharvesting of reef organisms that feed on algae, such as parrotfish and sea urchins, might allow for increased algal cover on the reef, smothering the corals and further compromising resistance to other stressors. The degradation of coral reef ecosystems has progressed to the point where two key reef-building species of Caribbean/Atlantic coral, elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral (A. cervicornis), have been listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

How are we addressing this issue?

CSCOR’s coral research programs integrate ecological studies, physical oceanographic research, management practices, and social science to address issues identified as priorities by NOAA and the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force that impact our coral ecosystems. We ensure our research is incorporated into decision making and policy by involving resource managers and key stakeholders in our research projects. The main goal of CSCOR coral programs is the development of predictive tools and capabilities that help resource managers evaluate management strategies that are applicable to their region. Funded projects have examined the linkages between watershed-based activities and changes in nearshore reef ecosystems, identifying and prioritizing ecological stressors. They have detected changes in marine resource populations that alter ecosystem balance, and have determined regional connectivity among reefs, especially in relation to the design of marine protected area networks.