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For Immediate Release: Feb 27, 2003
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

CORAL REEF TASK FORCE ADRIFT UNDER BUSH

Task Force Into Task Avoidance, Critics Say


Washington, DC - The US Coral Reef Task Force is floundering and unwilling to take actions to curb practices that are destroying the remaining coral reefs, charged Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Cry of the Water.

Created by Executive Order in 1998, the US Coral Reef Task Force is an interagency body that is supposed to "secure implementation of measures necessary to reduce and mitigate coral reef ecosystem degradation and to restore coral reefs."After adopting an ambitious National Action Plan in 2000, calling for protection of 20 percent of all US coral reefs as no-take ecological reserves, work by the Task Force has stagnated. By the end of 2001, the Task Force itself expressed frustration about its inability to make progress toward meeting any of its goals, calling by resolution for the creation of an implementation strategy.

According to the groups, the largest failure of the Task Force has been its unwillingness to address destructive coral reef policies and practices of its own members -

The US Army Corps of Engineers, a Task Force member, allows fiber optic cables and other subsea construction to cross reef zones without environmental review. The Task Force has yet to take up a petition from PEER filed 20 months ago asking for a hearing on the issue;

The Task Force still has not set an agenda item on the damage done to reefs by sand dredging from an extensive Corps program to rebuild or "renourish" eroding Florida beaches, despite a report from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, another Task Force member, documenting reef degradation; and

Despite evidence of excessive nutrients from the Broward County sewage outflow pipe harming the surrounding reefs, the Task Force would not accord the issue a place on its agenda. Representatives from the Department of Interior, which chairs the Task Force, told a Florida conservation group, Cry of the Water, that it could not display photos or video of the outflow during its public comment period unless the images were first screened for unspecified "security" concerns.

"The US Coral Reef Task Force specializes in task avoidance," commented PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer, who noted that the Task Force has time to preview an IMAX film, "The Coral Reef Adventure," but not to debate adopting reef protection policies of consequence."Despite report after report indicating continuing loss of reef ecosystems, the Task Force is moving at the speed of a sea anemone."