WASHINGTON, D.C.—Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina announced $1,094,205 in grant assistance to address the impacts of climate change and other threats to coral reefs in the U.S. territories and freely associated states. The grants are part of the Coral Reef Initiative Program in the Office of Insular Affairs.
“I am pleased to support these coral reef projects that focus on understanding and reducing the effects of climate change on coral reef ecosystems,” said Kia’aina. “These grants are especially timely as we witness the devastating effects on our coral reefs from this year’s record-breaking warm ocean temperatures. These funds will help insular area governments and communities take measures to increase the resilience of these critical resources in the face of the significant threats posed by climate change.”
Coral Reef Initiative grants awarded this week are as follows:
• Micronesia Conservation Trust (Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia) – $130,000 to support development of a robust model for sea-level rise projections as part of a mangrove vulnerability assessment on Pohnpei. Healthy fringing mangrove forests provide timber, fuelwood, nursery and fish habitats, as well as filter coastal waters and protect coastal areas from rising seas and erosion. Results from this work will have application across the Pacific. Funds will also support the highly successful Micronesia Challenge Young Champions initiative that will provide five interns with one-year internships at natural resource management and non-governmental agencies across Micronesia. The interns will work to share lessons learned, promote efficiency of conservation efforts, and conduct outreach and information-sharing locally, regionally, internationally, and online.
• Bureau of Environmental & Coastal Quality (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, CNMI) – $73,040 to conduct summer youth environmental stewardship programs on Tinian and Rota and provide regional coordination and capacity building opportunities for CNMI’s coral reef managers. Funds will also be used to assess the resilience of seagrass ecosystems on Saipan and to incorporate three-dimensional modeling of reef structural changes into CNMI’s long-term coral reef monitoring program.
• The Nature Conservancy (Seattle, Washington) – $31,490 to The Nature Conservancy’s Reef Resilience Project to support development of a new online tool to help coral reef managers “climate proof” their coral reef projects and programs. The Corals & Climate Adaptation Planning Design Tool will instruct users on the science of coral acclimation and potential adaptation and how the tool can be used to support climate-smart planning and management. Reef managers in the U.S. Insular Areas and around the world will be able to use the tool.
• Coral Reef Advisory Group (American Samoa) – $123,710 to incorporate climate change adaptation principles into efforts to reduce land-based sources of pollution using the Corals & Climate Adaptation Planning Design Tool being developed jointly by The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Office of Insular Affairs. Funds will also support collaboration between scientists and managers in the islands to increase the extent to which resilience and vulnerability are included in management planning, and to raise awareness among reef stakeholders for resilience-based management to reduce vulnerability to climate change.
• Bureau of Statistics and Planning (Guam) – $105,600 to raise awareness of island residents about the importance of Guam’s coral reef resources to tourism, recreation, fisheries, and protection. Funds will be used to help educational outreach to primary, secondary, and post-secondary students on the effects of climate change and how to minimize negative impacts on coral reefs. Funding also will be used to work with local villages in the Manell-Geus watershed to reduce sediment run-off onto adjacent coral reefs by promoting habitat restoration through fire hazard reduction and eradication of invasive species such as bamboo. The grant also funds opportunities to coordinate with others in the region and nationally on issues related to protection and management of coral reefs.
• Department of Planning and Natural Resources (U.S. Virgin Islands) – $131,000 to enhance the effectiveness of local coral reef planning efforts; to create “stewards of the reef” through targeted marine experience and education of local high school students; and to integrate “ocean acidification sentinel” sites into the islands’ territorial coral reef monitoring program.
• College of the Marshall Islands (Republic of the Marshall Islands) – $124,963 to develop technical guidelines for assessing the state of the coastline and historic shoreline position and identifying erosion prone areas in support of coastal protection efforts by the Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Agency and Public Works Department. While initial efforts target Majuro, long-term benefits will extend to Ebeye and the outer islands. This project will utilize the GIS database and remote sensing capabilities for conservation and protection of coral reefs in the Marshall Islands that were developed, in part, with previous Office of Insular Affairs funding.
• International Society for Reef Studies (Hawaii) – $40,000 to support the Leaders’ Summit that will be convened as part of the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium in June 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Summit will bring regional leaders together with scientists and government representatives to address the need for improving the science-to-policy bridge.
• The Nature Conservancy (Santa Cruz, California) – $89,821 to support a project demonstrating the role coral reefs play as effective first-line defenses in protecting coastlines from flooding. The project will identify when, where and how coral reefs provide the most significant flood reduction benefits both socially and economically under current and future climate change scenarios in American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coral reefs provide a natural protective defense that is often not as rigorously evaluated as seawalls and other “grey infrastructure” which may not be cost effective and can have negative impacts on coastal ecosystems.
• Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) – $66,481 to support the successful Tasi-Watch Program which has been training recent high school graduates to become community conservation rangers since 2010. The word tasi in Chamorro means ocean.
• Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography; Nova Southeastern University (Florida) – $200,000 to support Year 2 of the National Coral Reef Management Assistantship Program for the U.S. territories. The program helps fill current capacity gaps as well as build longer-term capacity by placing qualified young professionals in jurisdictions where their education and work experience meet specific needs.