For Immediate Release: Oct. 21, 2011
DEP SECRETARY KICKS OFF 26TH MEETING OF THE UNITED STATES CORAL REEF TASK FORCE
~National attention focused on the importance of research, stewardship and conservation for the more than 350 miles of the Florida Reef Tract~
DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. talks with Coral Reef Conservation Program Manager Chantal Collier at the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Meeting.
FT. LAUDERDALE – Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. joined more than 500 international members of the coral reef community this week as part of the 26th United States Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) meeting in Ft. Lauderdale. Hosted in Florida for the first time in seven years, the meeting gathered USCRTF members and the most elite researchers in coral reef science to focus on the Florida Reef Tract. The largest living coral reef in the Northern Hemisphere, this 358 mile span is vital to Florida’s coastal environment and serves as a key element in promoting Florida’s coastal economy.
“Florida is proud to welcome this esteemed group of scientists and members of the international coral reef community to our great state to focus on the protection of the Florida Reef Tract,” said Secretary Vinyard. “People may not realize that corals are integral in keeping Florida’s waters clean and seafood healthy, creating jobs and increasing valuable tourism opportunities.”
The Florida Reef Tract stretches more than 350 miles from the Dry Tortugas in Monroe County all the way to the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County. Florida’s reefs generate more than $6 billion a year and sustain 71,000 jobs. By highlighting its numerous economic and environmental benefits, this week’s meeting helped increase national coordination and support for conservation and protection of the Florida Reef Tract.
The USCRTF meets biannually with one meeting held in a task force member state to focus on a local initiative. This week focused on the theme “Integrating Management of the Florida Reef Tract” and addressed the issues of coastal and marine spatial planning, water management and coral reef restoration and mitigation in Florida. This planning process gives reef managers and stakeholders a coherent, science-based approach to spatial planning. Meeting attendees participated in working groups, planning meetings and were able to take educational field trips to experience Florida’s reefs.
As evidence of the support and coordination these meetings have generated, Secretary Vinyard announced that Florida would participate in a renewed Memorandum of Agreement to demonstrate Florida’s long-term commitment to improve coral reef resilience and ensure long-term sustainability. The new agreement is an enhancement of one signed in 2004 between DEP, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The new agreement will formally add The Nature Conservancy and the U. S. Department of Interior, further emphasizing the importance of state, federal and non-profit partnerships in protecting Florida’s reefs. The agreement is expected to be signed and finalized later this year.