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On October 26, 2023, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) approved a resolution recognizing coral reefs of U.S. states and territories as national, natural infrastructure.  

This move aims to encourage the use of federal funding towards coral reef conservation and restoration, with a particular focus on hazard mitigation and disaster-recovery resources. Healthy coral reefs act as natural breakwaters, helping to mitigate climate change-related risks and disaster events including exposure to storms, high-wave events, sea-level rise, and the resulting coastal flooding. 

Animated GIF showing waves breaking over a coral reef from above
Animated GIF showing waves breaking over a coral reef from above, illustrating how reefs act as natural breakwaters that dissipate wave energy.

The resolution—which is a recommendation that does not amount to policy—was drafted by USCRTF members including representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), to empower science-based management of natural resources. 

This resolution marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing efforts to safeguard these vital ecosystems. It also underscores the important role that coral reefs play in protecting communities, properties, and livelihoods. By officially designating coral reefs as national infrastructure, the USCRTF’s 13 federal agencies, two states, and five territories have created a strategic framework that directs funding to initiatives geared toward the preservation and rehabilitation of these ecosystems.

With this designation, the USCRTF aims to fortify the nation's commitment to preserving and restoring coral reefs across the U.S., which includes significant tropical areas in U.S. insular areas: the territories of American Sāmoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico; as well as freely associated states such as the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. This collaborative approach allows federal, state, and territorial entities to work together toward multiple benefits and reduced risk and loss. 

By encouraging targeted financial support for coral reef restoration initiatives, the resolution reinforces the United States' dedication to nature-based solutions and the protection of coastal communities. The recognition of coral reefs as national, natural infrastructure signifies a proactive stance towards the conservation of these important ecosystems, ensuring their resilience in the face of climate change and safeguarding the myriad benefits they provide to both marine life and human communities. 

Read a related press release from UCSC

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