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Coral Reef Initiative

LaParguera, PR reef. Photo courtesy of NOAA-CCMA.The Caribbean Area (Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) are surrounded by exceptional coral reef ecosystems. However, there are many effects of natural and mostly man induced activities that have resulted in adverse impacts to the reefs, these include among others: sedimentation, eutrophication, and pollution.

The United States Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) Exit image for external links-icwas established in 1998 by Presidential Executive Order 13089 to lead U.S. efforts to preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems. The USCRTF has been instrumental in building partnerships and strategies for on-the-ground action to conserve coral reefs. The USCRTF works in cooperation with State, territorial, commonwealth, and local government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, the scientific community, and commercial interests to further the understanding and conservation of coral reef ecosystems.

Coral head buried under sediment in Fish Bay, St. John, USVI.In 2002, the USCRTF identified the need for action at the local level to reduce key threats to coral reefs in each of the seven states and territories which possess significant coral reef resources. NRCS Caribbean Area has been an active participant in the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force's Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Working Groups, assisting local and federal agency representatives in the development and implementation of local action strategies to address pollution from agricultural activities and land development.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the Caribbean Area has reaffirmed the national NRCS agreement to help lead efforts to address land-based pollution threats to coral reefs. Through the 2014 Farm Bill conservation programs, technical and financial assistance is provided to eligible agricultural producers and other non-federal land managers to address soil erosion and soil health, water quality and conservation, air quality, healthy plants, energy conservation, global warming issues, and upland and wetland wildlife habitat enhancement.

Farm Bill programs strive to assist agricultural producers to implement conservation measures that provide on-site and off-site benefits. The health of living coral reefs is dependent upon superior water quality and clarity allowing effective sunlight penetration. Introduction of nutrients and sediments have negative effects on the health and sustainability of living coral reef communities. Proper management of surface water along with other related natural resources from agricultural lands can assist in the protection of coral reefs in the Caribbean Area.

Rio Loco reservoir.The Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) provides financial assistance to implement conservation practices to protect soil and water resources, as well as wildlife habitat. Owners of land in agricultural production or persons who are engaged in livestock or agricultural production on eligible land may participate in the EQIP program. Program practices and activities are carried out according to a conservation plan developed in conjunction with the producer that identifies the appropriate conservation practices or measures needed to address identified resource concerns.

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) enable NRCS to work with other public and private entities to accelerate technology transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches to address natural resource concerns while leveraging Federal investment in environmental enhancement and protection, in conjunction with agricultural production. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a voluntary conservation program that encourages producers to address resource concerns in a comprehensive manner by: Undertaking additional conservation activities; and, Improving, maintaining, and managing existing conservation activities.

WRP in Salinas del Combate in Cabo Rojo, PR. Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE) help landowners to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. NRCS provides technical and financial support to help landowners with their wetland restoration efforts. The NRCS goal is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program. This program offers landowners an opportunity to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection.

Measuring the health of the coral reefs near La Parguera, PR. Photo courtesy of NOAA-CCMA.The Jobos Bay Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) began in 2006 as a multi-agency effort to quantify the environmental benefits of conservation practices used by private landowners participating in selected U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs. The Jobos Bay Watershed in South-Central Puerto Rico (PR) was selected as the first tropical CEAP Special Emphasis Watershed. CEAP objectives are: to determine environmental effects that agricultural conservation practices may have on coastal waters and associated habitats in a tropical ecosystem, and ultimately, to coral reefs. Findings will help to develop new conservation practices and land management strategies to resolve resource concerns in the Caribbean Area as well as a basis for other tropical areas such as the Pacific Basin. This project is possible thanks to governmental and Non-governmental organizations. For more information visit:

Meander damage after torrential rains in lower Rio Loco watershed. Site visit with the Suroeste Soil Conservation District and other conservation partners.The Guánica-Rio Loco Watershed Project located in the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico covers portions of the municipalities of Guánica, Yauco, Lajas and Cabo Rojo. This project is in its initial phase and its purpose is to apply conservation practices in both the upper and lower parts of the watershed especially to address soil erosion, water quality and quantity and wildlife habitat in agricultural lands to benefit the environment and the coral reefs in this part of the Island. This project involves several conservation partners including state and local government and nongovernment organizations and will serve a prototype for watershed management.

Links to NRCS & Partners Coral Reef Activities in the Caribbean Area

Links to Additional Coral Reef Information (exit USDA-NRCS Website)

Check out this fantastic video from BioQuest Studios called 'Slow Life' - a fabulous time-lapse video providing a glimpse into the life of corals. The video won the Visual Science Award at the 7th annual Imagine Science Film Festival.