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By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 23) - The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force will hold a meeting in Washington, D.C. this week-its 11th since former Pres. Bill Clinton formed the interagency group in 1998 to address the crisis on coral reefs.

Federal and insular officials are expected to attend the meeting, which will kick off with a mini-symposium on the vital role of public outreach and education in influencing perceptions and behavior toward coral reef conservation.

Based on the scheduled agenda, the mini-symposium starts after a ceremonial welcome by Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary Tim Keeney, who co-chairs the task force.

Part of the mini-symposium includes discussions on communicating coral reef science and building an informed public. Ashley Simons, Assistant Director of Science Outreach for Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea, will give a talk about this. Non-profit group Reef Check's William E. Kiene will deliver a talk on the role of volunteers and monitoring in coral reef conservation.

The meeting will also focus on assessing land-based sources of pollution on coral reefs. Cheryl Woodley of the Coral Disease and Health Consortium under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, will talk about identifying the effects of land-based pollution on coral reef health through biomedical techniques. The meeting will also focus on assessing the effect of climatic changes to coral reefs.

White House Council on Environmental Quality chair James Connaughton will ceremonially open the meeting's Day Two. On this day, task force awards will be given to recipients.

The task force has underscored the importance of protecting coral reefs, which cover less then 1 percent of the earth's surface.

"Coral reefs are valuable assets providing food, jobs, protection from storms and billions of dollars in revenues each year to local communities and national economies," according to the task force.

The CNMI is a member of the task force. Last October, Saipan played host to federal and insular

officials during the 10th task force meeting held at the Dai-Ichi Hotel Saipan Beach.

February 24, 2004

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