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CORAL REEF ECOSYSTEMS RESEARCH AND
THURSDAY, APRIL 23, 1992
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE,
SPACE, AND TECHNOLOGY, SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENVIRON-
Washington, DC. The subcommittees met, pursuant to call, at 1 p.m., Sheraton Key Largo Resort, 97000 South Overseas Highway, Key Largo, Florida, Hon. James H. Scheuer (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. SCHEUER. Good afternoon. Can everybody hear us up here?
We are going to try and go it alone without the sound, the way politicians have done for over the millenium.
You folks sitting in the back, way back, would facilitate things if you came up front because we don't want to have to yell any more than necessary to be heard. Can you all hear me?
I am Congressman Jim Scheuer, and today the Subcommittee on the Environment of the Science Committee, which I chair, and the Subcommittee on Oceanography, Great Lakes and Outer Continental Shelf, which Congressman Dennis Hertel chairs, will examine the status of environmental research on coral reef ecosystems and the environmental factors which affect their sustainable use.
We are very honored and privileged to be joined by Chairman Dante Fascell, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, one of the most respected and influential Members of the House, and we thank him very much for his courtesy in helping us put together this hearing
Now, we intend to focus our attention today on the need for longterm monitoring of these threatened ecosystems and on international cooperation in our research efforts.
Again, I want to thank Chairman Fascell for the fine hospitality he has extended to our two subcommittees. We have received a very warm welcome here in Florida and I am very much appreciative of the opportunity to be here today.
As you know, coral reefs are well developed in coastal waters of only two of our U.S. States—Florida and Hawaii.
Extensive reefs occur in many of the islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific under U.S. jurisdiction—the U.S. Virgin Islands,
Puerto Rico, and Guam. Those are the places where the United States is involved in coral reefs. The total world area of shallow water coral reefs has been estimated at about 240,000 square miles.
Coral reefs exist in clear waters where there is high salinity and warm temperatures. It is these constant, stable physical conditions which allow for the evolution of specialized, symbiotic relationships so characteristic of coral reef communities. Coral reefs provide considerable pharmaceutical, ecological, and recreational values. Coral reef communities are a unique assemblage of diverse species. They provide habitat, resting, feeding, and hiding places for a multitude of other marine organisms.
The diversity of marine life associated with coral reefs rivals the species richness of the tropical rain forests. Such an ecosystem may include up to 3,000 species of plants, vertebrates and invertebrates, including fish, worms, mollusks, algae, sponges and urchins.
Coral reefs protect harbors and coasts from continuing erosion. They contribute sand to our beaches and islands. They are a source of new anti-cancer, anti-microbial, and anti-coagulant drugs. They support our fisheries, our mariculture, and tourism industries.
Our coral reef ecosystems are fragile and dynamic. They are especially vulnerable to phenomena associated with global climate changes, such as rises in global temperatures, increased levels of ultraviolet radiation and sea level changes. Human-related activities, including pollution, terrestrial runoff over-exploitation of fisheries, anchor damage, and trade in coral products, altogether, threaten coral reefs.
Environmental stresses are taking their toll on coral reefs throughout the world. For example, the phenomena of coral bleaching which occurs when coral reefs are so distressed. It is widespread throughout the world.
Coral bleaching of reefs and subsequent die-offs have occurred throughout the world-in Australia, the Red Sea, in Hawaii, as well as in the Caribbean and the Florida Keys. Although coral bleaching has been attributed to global warming, further research of this phenomena is clearly needed.
What remains clear is that coral reef ecosystems are declining and threatened by environmental stress. Today, we will focus our attention on these underwater forests. We will hear testimony from Federal and State agencies, scientists, and the community at large. Understanding how these ecosystems function as part of an integrated system which includes biological interactions as well as abiotic factors will be a challenge for us all.
John Muir, the great naturalist, once said, when we try to pick out one thing by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. Everything is connected with everything else. Corals have evolved in the ancient seas 500 million years ago and humans shoulder a responsibility for their continued well-being and survival.
Before we hear from our distinguished witnesses, let me turn to my distinguished colleague, Dennis Hertel of Michigan, who chairs the Subcommittee on Oceanography, Great Lakes and the Outer Continental Shelf.
This is a joint hearing between the subcommittee Congressman Hertel chairs and the subcommittee which I chair, and this is a more or less unusual process. It is very constructive, very cost-effective, and I am delighted to yield to Congressman Hertel.
Mr. HERTEL. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for all the work you have done for the environment.
It is a pleasure to be in Key Largo today. The Subcommittee on Oceanography, Great Lakes and the Outer Continental Shelf and the Subcommittee on Environment decided to conduct this joint congressional hearing in the Florida Keys, because we know that a most fragile and treasured national resource located here is endangered.
The coral reef ecosystem of the Florida Keys is immense, beautiful, and serves as the breeding and feeding ground for a variety of marine organisms.
Over generations, fisheries have propagated generously along the coral reef of the Florida Keys, providing plentiful harvests for commercial, subsistence, and sport interests. In more recent years, the corals have been used in the production of biomedical chemicals found to contain properties unique and effective in treating human diseases. In addition, this expansive coral reef provides a natural barrier of coastal protection, by limiting breakwaters and by controlling wave erosion along Florida beaches and shores.
At a time when we are only beginning to understand the complex life forms of the reef and the marine life that inhabit it, we find the ecosystem is degrading in ways we never expected. Some believe that detrimental "coral bleaching” results primarily from higher sea temperatures brought on by increased levels of ultraviolet radiation and sea level changes. Others claim that human activities, such as pollution, terrestrial runoff anchor damage, and over exploitation of fisheries causes the decline of the coral reef.
Our purpose today is twofold. First, in reviewing current research and scientific literature with our witnesses, we want to understand the causes and the extent of the damage to the Florida Keys coral reef. Second, we want to know what steps need to be taken to monitor the life systems of the reef and to manage the reef effectively to prevent further decline.
As policymakers, we are considering legislation that seeks to rejuvenate and preserve the coral reef of the Florida Keys. In my role as Chairman of the Oceanography Subcommittee, I am working with Chairman Jones of the full committee, and other members of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, to improve and extend the National Marine Sanctuary Program, by providing clearer program goals and better tools for managing unique national resources as spectacular as the Florida Keys coral reef.
I am grateful that you have given me this opportunity to come to Florida and to learn from you. Sharing my interest in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and its splendid coral reef are several Members of the House of Representatives who are with us today, Jim Scheuer, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, from New York; Dante Fascell, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Henry Nowak, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources from Buffalo, New York—and they have been very active on these issues. Mr. Jim Scheuer, Chairman of the subcommittee on environment has done so much I can't tell