Corals at Pagan Island, an uninhabited volcanic island in the Mariana Islands archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, seem to have fared much better than other areas. Here is a close-up of an Acropora coral, typically more susceptible to bleaching events, which appears to be doing just fine. Courtesy/NOAA
Coral reefs in remote, uninhabited areas of the American Pacific are generally in good condition, while reefs in the regions that are closer to human populations show more signs of impacts, according to five status reports on reef ecosystems released Thursday by NOAA.
The reports, which cover coral reef ecosystems in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawaii, and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, say that more remote areas have few water quality issues and are less affected by fishing and nearshore development.
However, these reefs are still vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as warmer and more acidic water.
“The status reports help answer the question ‘How is the ecosystem doing?’” said Jennifer Koss, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program director. “The goal of these status reports is to provide a broad-level assessment of the reefs and engage communities and decision-makers in conversations about what the threats are to their corals.”
The reports were developed through an integrated and focused monitoring effort with federal, state, and territorial partners across the country. They use data collected between 2012 and 2017 on four categories: coral and algae abundance; coral reef-dependent fish populations; connections between coral reefs and climate; and human connections to coral reefs. The categories are combined for a final overall score that ranges from “Very Good” to “Critical.” The status of U.S. coral reefs in the Pacific are “Good” in American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Islands, and “Fair” in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and Hawaii.
Coral reef ecosystems under U.S. jurisdiction cover an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island, and more than 90 percent are in Pacific jurisdictions. They provide billions of dollars annually in food, jobs, recreation and tourism, and coastal protection. Coral reefs face an increasing number of threats from pollution, invasive species, unsustainable fishing practices, climate change and more.