USDA Launches New Coral Reef Conservation Initiative
Water Quality Pilot Program Will Be Duplicated in Florida, Hawaii and Pacific Islands
WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2009- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the launch of a new initiative to conserve coral reefs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide $1 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in Fiscal Year 2010 to reduce sediment and nutrient run-off from the watershed to help protect near shore coral reef ecosystems in the Guánica Bay Watershed in southwest Puerto Rico. Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Ann Mills made the announcement today on behalf of Secretary Vilsack at the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force's bi-annual meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"USDA is committed to helping improve the health of our oceans and ensuring the continued existence of diverse and plentiful coral reefs," Mills said. "Farmers can use the funding announced today to implement conservation practices that will result in water quality enhancements, thereby helping to protect coral reef ecosystems in the watershed."
The pilot project will protect coastal and stream water quality, improve wildlife habitat, and enhance near shore coastal and coral reef health through land-based management. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will assist producers in voluntarily establishing systems of conservation practices specifically tailored to their operations. These practices, designed to avoid, control and trap sediment and nutrient runoff, include nutrient management, cover crops, grassed waterways, and field borders. The $1 million dedicated to improving coral reef health in the watershed in Fiscal Year 2010 will come from funds NRCS allocates to Puerto Rico, and NRCS is planning to fund similar projects in Florida, U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands area in the future.
Administered by NRCS, EQIP provides technical and cost-share assistance to help crop and livestock farmers address natural resource concerns on their operation. The Guánica Bay Watershed was selected because it was a project ready for immediate implementation. USDA will announce a sign-up period for the coral reef initiative early in Fiscal Year 2010 and encourage producers within Guánica Bay Watershed to apply. Applicants will be ranked in a separate funding pool from those applying from outside the watershed.
Coral reefs thrive in superior and clear waters, allowing sunlight to penetrate easily. Coral reefs' numerous benefits include protecting coastal areas from storm surges; providing habitat and food sources for invertebrates, mammals, fish and birds; and providing an avenue for tourism.
For additional information about the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, please visit http://www.coralreef.gov. For additional information about the NRCS programs in the Caribbean, please visit http://www.pr.nrcs.usda.gov
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