Water Quality Working Group


Healthy coral reefs require good water quality to grow, remain viable, and provide ecosystem benefits. Both land-based and sea-based pollution can threaten reef resources by harming sensitive species, altering species compositions, disrupting critical ecological functions (e.g., photosynthesis), and impeding the normal growth and settlement of stony corals and other benthic invertebrates. Reef systems are impacted by a variety of pollutants, including sediments, nutrients, chemical contaminants, marine debris, and invasive species. Pollution enters reef ecosystems in many ways, ranging from specific point-source discharges such as sewage pipes and vessels, to more diffuse sources such as runoff associated with agriculture, coastal development, and road construction. Reef degradation is even greater in areas where the loss of wetlands or other associated habitats has reduced the system's natural ability to filter nutrients and other pollutants before reaching the reefs. Although there is wide variation among the sources, characteristics, and impacts of pollution in U.S. jurisdictions, significant reductions or potential elimination of much of the pollution could be accomplished by full implementation of existing State and Federal regulations and voluntary programs.

The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force identified pollution as a priority area for action. Members have taken a number of actions to address these issues, such as developing regulations to limit the types and amounts of land-based waste being discharged, increasing fines for violators of coral reef environmental protection regulations, implementing new pollution-control measures, and establishing Federal-local partnerships to voluntarily implement best management practices within coral reef watershed areas.