DOI awards nearly $1.6M to protect coral reefs, natural resources in insular areas

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The U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded $1,626,225 in Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources program funding from the Office of Insular Affairs to protect coral reefs in the territories.

The money will pay for clean-up and restoration activities, and combat invasive species through a variety of projects across the U.S. territories and the freely associated states.

The Guam Bureau of statistics and plans will receive $103,057 to support Guam’s coral reef management and conservation projects.

In a news release Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs Doug Domenech said “the Secretary and I are pleased to announce funding support for the protection of coral reefs and natural resources in the insular areas,” said Assistant Secretary Domenech.

“Funds will be used to support a coral reef fellowship program, strengthen coral reef protection activities, continue restoration initiatives, and remove invasive species. The support that Congress provides every year for the Office of Insular Affairs’ Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources program is extremely important for the insular areas.”

Grants provided through the Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources program for fiscal year 2020 for the total amount of $1,035,122 are listed as follows:

  • Guam Bureau of Statistics and Plans – $103,057 – Funds will support Guam’s coral reef management and conservation projects including outreach, education, and related efforts to protect coral reefs on Guam. Projects include review of soil bioengineering techniques for the restoration of slopes in the prevention against soil erosion, identify sources of land-based pollution and enhance water quality in the Ugum watershed area, strengthen surveillance capacity of the Guam Department of Agriculture conservation officers, and participation in the All Islands Committee and U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meetings.
  • U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Department of Planning and Natural Resources – $239,970 – Funds will be used to address the emergence of the deadly Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in USVI waters. The disease severely impacts at least four of seven Endangered Species Act-listed coral species, namely Dendrogyra cylindrusOrbicella annularisOrbicella faveolata, and Orbicella franksii as well as a wide array of other important coral species. The deadly disease has attacked two out of every three coral colonies in the USVI with a mortality rate of 80-90 percent and has the potential to drastically impact all coral reefs in the territory. Ongoing efforts include the organization of specialized strike teams who deploy quickly to identify, treat, and/or remove evidence of infection within the St. Thomas East End Reserves, the St. Croix East End Marine Park, and other protected areas and priority reefs in the USVI.
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Division of Coastal Resources Management – $205,890 – Funds will be used to update the watershed management plan and priorities for the Laolao watershed area. Funds will also be used to conduct revegetation of the deforested and eroded uplands areas and provide wildfire surveillance in the Achugao watershed area. Reforestation efforts will improve soil stability and decrease the threat of erosion and sedimentation buildup on the coral reef and nearshore ecosystems. The popular Watershed Warriors program will be expanded into Achugao, providing meaningful outdoor science education to 4th graders. Funds will also support the CNMI’s participation at the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force’s biannual meetings.
  • Nova Southeastern University (NSU) National Coral Reef Management Fellowship – $200,000 – NSU, an academic institution in Florida, will use the funds to manage the National Coral Reef Management Fellowship, a program which places a competitively-selected coral fellow in American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. One coral fellow is placed in each territory’s local jurisdictional agency responsible for managing coral reefs and is embedded in local governments to support the coral management and policy needs of each jurisdiction. Other Federal partners provide funding to support coral fellows in Hawaii, Florida, and Puerto Rico, as well as travel, training, and professional development for all seven coral fellows. The insular area governments have identified the National Coral Reef Management Fellowship as a top priority.
  • Ridge to Reefs – $150,275 – Ridge to Reefs, a non-profit organization, will use the funds to continue community-based restoration activities in targeted watershed areas on Babeldaob, the largest island in the Republic of Palau. Ridge to Reefs is collaborating with local partners to implement, maintain, and monitor several restoration projects identified in the Airai State Governments five-year management plan (2014-2019) for the Ngerikiil Watershed. Major concerns include pollution from failing septic tanks and cesspools, large amounts of sediment and run-off from recently developed areas as well as nutrient, sediment, and chemical run-off from intensely farmed areas.
  • American Samoa Office of the Governor – $135,930 – Funding will be used to clean up the Vaipito stream as well as its associated tributaries and wetland areas in order to protect Pago Pago Bay and the surrounding marine environment from sedimentation and run off. Clean-up and restoration efforts will also focus on the removal of trash and debris from target areas to reduce disease-carrying mosquito and rat populations, as well as revegetation of the lower Vaipito area with mangrove trees and riparian salt-resistant native tree species. All efforts will support the Governor’s Island-Wide Clean-Up Initiative and are included in American Samoa’s long-term conservation plan.

In addition, the three following grants totaling $591,103 were provided for under the fiscal year 2020 Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources program to combat invasive species in several U.S. territories.

  • American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife – $297,791 – Funds will be used to continue control and humane eradication efforts of the invasive Myna and Bulbul bird populations on Tutuila Island. First funded by the Office of Insular Affairs in 2017, the American Samoa government has completed the National Environment Policy Act  environmental compliance requirements with the Historic Preservation Office and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; constructed more than 4,000 live traps; completed consultations with the Office of Samoan Affairs, village councils, and mayors; and provided outreach presentations to local communities and schools. The initial dispatch of these invasive birds in certain areas has already allowed for the return of some native birds and other species.
  • CNMI Department of Land and Natural Resources – $237,795 – Funds will be used to eradicate the Mucuna pruriens, also known as velvet bean, an invasive non-native vine species that has overrun several forested areas and communities on Saipan and has been known to trigger allergic reactions and lead to hospitalization for individuals with certain skin conditions.
  • USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources – $55,517 – Funds will be used to continue tracking nuisance and exotic species arriving into the territory while also building on outreach, partnerships developed, and lessons learned during the second annual USVI Exotic Pet Amnesty Week held earlier this year. The USVI has experienced local population bursts of animals associated with the illegal pet trade, such as the Boa constrictor, which are subsequently released illegally into the wild. Funding for this program was first announced and funded by the Office of Insular Affairs in 2019.

These three grants are in addition to $942,206 announced and awarded earlier this year on May 20, 2020, for a total of $1,533,309 provided in fiscal year 2020 funds to combat invasive species in the insular areas. The Brown Tree Snake, while also an invasive species on Guam, is funded separately through the Brown Tree Snake Control program and was also announced in May.

All projects are funded through the Office of Insular Affairs’ Coral Reef Initiative and Natural Resources program and are made available each year by Congress to support the protection of coral reefs and natural resources in the U.S. territories and the freely associated states. For more information on grant assistance provided through the Office of Insular Affairs, please visit: https://www.doi.gov/oia/financial-assistance.

The Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, @ASIIADomenech, and the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) carry out the Secretary of the Interior’s responsibilities for the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, OIA administers and oversees federal assistance under the Compacts of Free Association to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.