Shallow and deep coral ecosystems are being imperiled by a combination of stressors. Climate change, unsustainable fishing practices, and disease are transforming coral communities at regional to global scales. At local levels, excessive amounts of sediments, nutrients, and contaminants are also impacting the many benefits that healthy coral ecosystems provide. This Plan, Strategic Science for Coral Ecosystems, describes the information needs of resource managers and summarizes current research being conducted by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists and partners. It outlines important research actions that need to be undertaken over the next five years to achieve more accurate forecasting of future conditions and develop more effective decision-support tools to adaptively manage coral ecosystems. The overarching outcome of this Plan, if fully implemented, would be in transferring relevant knowledge to decision-makers, enabling them to better protect and sustain coral ecosystem services. These services include sources of food, essential habitat for fisheries and protected species, protection of coastlines from wave damage and erosion, recreation, and cultural values for indigenous communities.
The USGS has a long history of research and monitoring experience in studying ancient and living coral communities and serving many stakeholders. The research actions in this Plan build on the USGS legacy of conducting integrated multidisciplinary science to address complex environmental issues. This Plan is responsive to Federal legislation and authorities and a variety of external and internal drivers that include the President's Ocean Action Plan, the recommendations of the Coral Reef Task Force, the information needs of Bureaus in the Department of Interior, the USGS Bureau Science Strategy (USGS 2007) and the formal plans of several USGS Programs. To achieve this Plan's desired outcomes will require increased funding and more effective coordination and collaboration among USGS managers and scientists within a national and international framework of partnerships in coral ecosystem science.