Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr., and Jean-Pierre Oriol, Acting Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, returned to the territory today after attending the 32nd Meeting of the United States Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) in Maui, Hawaii. Co-hosted by the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Interior, the bi-annual meeting brings together representatives of 10 federal agencies, seven U.S. coral reef jurisdictions, and three freely associated states to report on the state of coral reef ecosystems. 

The 32nd meeting was held from September 8 to 13 in Ka’anapali on the island of Maui.  Last year, the 30th USCRTF was held on St. Croix in November, and attended by the top executives of the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and American Samoa.

De Jongh noted, “The 32nd Coral Reef Task Force meeting was very informative and allowed us to learn about some of the specific initiatives undertaken in Hawaii and in some of the other locations that can be applicable to us.  The visit also gave Commissioner Oriol and me a chance to meet with Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries.  Recently NOAA designated 20 species of coral as being “threatened” and, as we know, five of those species exist in U.S. Caribbean waters. It is very important that we oversee the health of our coral reefs and balance this effort with responsible development of the territory’s shorelines.  A recent value for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources estimates that the value of coral reefs to our economy is over $200 million per year. Because our tourism, boating, fishing, yachting and marine industries rely heavily on the beauty of our oceans and the health of the coral reefs are of paramount importance to the environmental and economic viability of the Virgin Islands.”

Acting Commissioner Oriol reported that he was particularly interested in learning about the community partnerships established on Maui for coral reef conservation.  “The issue of coral reef preservation is widely understood and accepted by the people of Hawaii and there are many groups involved in efforts to safeguard them,” he remarked.  “I also had the opportunity to meet high-level officials of NOAA and discuss our mutual concerns.  The meeting was an invaluable introduction for me to the USCRTF, its members and stakeholders,” he added. “I now look forward to the opportunity to discuss with NOAA the next steps in the consultation process with respect to the “threatened” species and how long will it take to put a process in place.”