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Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland Highlights Efforts to Bolster Coastal and Climate Resilience in the U.S. Territories

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland taking a glimpse at the coral restoration process. (Photo provided by the Department of Interior)

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland highlighted the efforts to bolster coastal and climate resilience in the U.S. Territories in a brief press conference held Saturday at the Nature Conservancy on St. Croix.  Also in attendance was the Assistant Secretary for Insula and International Affairs, Carmen G. Cantor and other contributories to the Conservancy’s efforts.

“We have had a wonderful past few days and had a chance to see the natural beauty of the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as the hard work by local communities and local teams to protect and conserve these unique landscapes,” said Haaland.

Thanked everyone and said, “These efforts fit into the Interior Department’s broader initiatives to restore ecosystems and end climate resilience.”

Haaland said that she learned about the massive destruction caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria to homes, businesses, communities, impacting people’s livelihoods and the economy, as well as damage to the coral reefs on both St. Croix and St. John. She also learned about ongoing restoration work in the community as well as ongoing work to restore and maintain coral reefs that will sustain a healthy environment for the territory.

The Biden-Harris administration is taking steps to strengthen communities, create jobs, invest in climate resilience, collaborate conservation, and promote clean energy deployment in the U.S. territories. Haaland said that the Interior has invested $570,000 in the U.S. Virgin Islands and provided $400,000 in fiscal year 2022 for the coral reef and natural reef initiative. The important program provides grant funding and management and protection of coral reefs to combat invasive species in insular areas contributing to the health of coral reef ecosystems and other natural resources for long-term economic and social benefits.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland views coral at the Nature Conservancy on St. Croix. (Photo provided by the Department of Interior)

While talking about the coral reefs, Haaland became a bit emotional on the effects of climate change to the coral reefs.  The Source asked her to elaborate a bit on the emotion, to which she said, “We were talking earlier, and it was explained to me that coral reefs can live for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it’s interesting if somebody wants to chop a five-hundred-year-old tree down, everybody gets really upset about it. We do not think about a five-hundred-year coral being destroyed because of ocean acidity or somebody breaking it off or dying because the ecosystem is changing in the ocean”.

“I feel like every piece of nature is important and just flying over here and seeing the reef over Buck Island it was exemplary how important these ecosystems are to the health of these communities.”

She continued, “Some people ask what keeps me up at night. Climate change keeps me up at night. I worry about it consistently. We all need to do what we can to protect our oceans.”

Halaand described the work that the National Conservancy is doing with the coral as “remarkable.”

According to their website, the Nature Conservancy’s work began over 40 years, they have been restoring coral reefs, protecting beaches, and safeguarding wildlife.

Secretary of Interior Deb Halaand takes a tour of coral reef restoration at the Nature Conservancy on St. Croix. (Photo provided by the Department of Interior)

“I am happy as a country we are spending resources on the research and development that it takes to grow these corals. Looking at the filtration systems and all the things that they are measuring like the temperature in the water, and the chemicals in the water. It is an intricate and complicated process. I appreciate it from that perspective but I’m sure the people doing the work here think of it in another way.”

Director at the National Conservancy Celeste Jarvis said, “What we are doing is trying to develop methods to restore the coral. To bring them back to where they once were.”

“We are facilitating their reproduction. We are planting enough coral together so that they will create a beautiful coral reef.”

Haaland also made time to participate in Veterans Day activities and visit National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-managed sites.

The Department of the Interior conserves and manages the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people. They provide scientific and other information about natural resources and natural hazards to address societal challenges and create opportunities for the American people. The department honors the nation’s trust responsibilities or special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities to help them prosper.

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