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Coral Reef Task Force Meeting in D.C. focuses on climate change, conservation

blue@samoanews.com

The 31st US Coral Reef Task Force Meeting was held in Washington DC from Feb. 17-21, and its All- Island Committee consists of seven jurisdictions: American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Florida, Guam, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
 
Director of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, who represented American Samoa at the meeting, said the forum provides networking to share best practices in management, conservation, research, and restoration of coral reefs.
 
“Climate change is significantly impacting our corals and this is something I believe we need to address here in American Samoa,” Matagi-Tofiga told Samoa News yesterday. She added that local Climate Change Specialist Whitney Peterson is preparing outreach programs to develop a Climate Resilience Plan.
 
Representing Governor Lolo M. Moliga as his point of contact at the meeting, Matagi-Tofiga highlighted the Crown of Thorns outbreak that continues to impact the local coral reef ecosystems. Last year, DMWR, along with the National Park Service and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, eradicated 2,000 Crown of Thorns starfish in Fagasa village alone.
 
(A moratorium on sea cucumber collection has been established to assess its population, to ensure future management efforts. Community members and local staff have been trained in coral gardening techniques to support ongoing tsunami recovery efforts, according to Matagi-Tofiga).
 
The All Island Committee, in which Matagi-Tofiga is a member, have joined forces to support the reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act. “The Committee has also requested a partnered effort to move forward with this,” said the DMWR Director.
 
“The Coral Reef Conservation Act is extremely important to the preservation and management of coral reefs,” she continued, adding that there are three priority targets for the reauthorization:
 
            •            First, and very important to American Samoa: disaster and catastrophy-related emergency response for coral reef ecosystems;
 
            •            Knowing and understanding the definitions of coral and coral reef; and
 
            •            Ratification of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.
 
Matagi-Tofiga said that during the meeting, the Endangered Species Act “was also heavily debated.”
 
She said that Dr. Veron, a well-known coral expert, provided a dataset that focuses on species-specific distribution and abundance, and that these provide the best available scientific information for examining species vulnerability and resilience against extinction.
 
The DMWR Director extended her sincerest gratitude to the Western Pacific Fishery Council and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council “for making this substantial scientific information available.”
 
Matagi-Tofiga concluded by saying that they are in full support of reinstating the Coral Fellowship Program, which assists in building local capacity and training our local students in coral reef management.
 
She acknowledged Nikolao Pula of the Department of the Interior, Congressman Faleomaevaga’s Office and their federal partners—NOAA, DOI, EPA, DOA, DOD, State Department, Department of Justice, DOT, NASA - the All Island Committee and their advisors Dr. Mike Hammet, Dr. Bob Richmond and Gerry Davis “for their support in sharing the best information and applying the best strategies to protect the coral reef ecosystems.”



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