National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Announces $2 Million in Coral Restoration Grants in the U.S. Pacific Islands

Silver Spring, Md. – July 26, 2023 – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation awarded seven grants totaling more than $2 million to support coral restoration in the four U.S. Pacific Island jurisdictions of American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and Hawai’i. The grants are funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  

The grants will support projects that directly contribute to coral restoration progression in the U.S. Pacific Islands by providing the means for capacity building and/or restoration implementation. The four U.S. Pacific Island jurisdictions started a coral restoration planning process in 2020 that led to the development of a draft action plan for each jurisdiction for one priority restoration goal. Now, additional investment and capacity is needed to meet the U.S. Pacific Islands coral restoration goals and implement the draft restoration action plans.  

Tj Tate, Director of Conservation for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said, “Climate change and other pressures are having disastrous effects on coral reefs around the world, including the waters surrounding U.S. Pacific Islands. Marine heatwaves like the one occurring right now in the southeastern U.S. demonstrate the need to act now to implement the restoration needed to stem the tide of reef degradation. The Foundation is committed to working with our partners and NOAA and on the ground to achieve those goals and protect coral reefs.” 

“NOAA is excited to support these grants for work that is critical to capacity building and implementation of restoration plans that were developed by each of the 4 U.S. Pacific coral reef jurisdictions. There is a growing need for coral restoration in the Pacific and these projects help to address that need,” said Carrie Selberg Robinson, director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Habitat Conservation. 

Coral reef ecosystems are important to the livelihoods of people in the U.S. Pacific Islands and provide substantial economic value through coastal fisheries and tourism. They provide immense cultural value, including to Native Hawaiians and other indigenous groups in the Pacific, as well as coastal protection and recreational uses. However, reefs are declining due to stressors including climate change impacts such as bleaching and ocean acidification, land-based sources of pollution, overfishing, and intensive human uses in some areas. 

“Innovative conservation incorporates Indigenous and local knowledge and wisdom into the protection and restoration of habitat and recovery of species and must be supported,” said Joel R. Johnson, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation president and CEO. “Restoring marine ecosystems, building local capacity in diverse communities, protecting biodiversity through sanctuary designation, like the Pacific Remote Islands, all contribute to the climate resiliency of our ocean and Great Lakes.” 

Grant recipients include Johnston Applied Marine Science (JAMS); Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, Division of Coastal Resources Management (CNMI DCRM); University of Guam Marine Laboratory; Guam Coral Reef Initiative; Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources (HI DLNR); University of Hawai’i at Hilo (Hawai’i Cooperative Fishery Research Unit), University of Hawai’i at Manoa (Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology), and The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i; and SECORE International. 

The projects funded will help transition the U.S. Pacific Island jurisdictions’ local prioritized reef sites identified in the draft restoration action plans from restoration planning into implementation, which will ultimately restore their ecological function and the benefits they provide to local communities. 

The projects will take place through the Summer of 2025. 


Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) 

Johnston Applied Marine Science (JAMS) 

Through thermal stress testing and the development of novel coral settlement substrates, this project will provide scientific support to improve the climate resilience and scale of restored coral populations in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). It also directly supports restoration implementation in the CNMI through the expansion and stocking of existing ocean and land-based coral nurseries, allowing restoration efforts to be scaled-up. 

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, Division of Coastal Resources Management (CNMI DCRM)

Efforts are needed to address threats to the CNMI’s coral reefs and ensure survival of critical reef habitats in the face of climate change and varying ocean conditions. This project aims to increase coastal and coral reef resilience and restore critical coral reef habitat. Activities will include monitoring and updating the CNMI Coral Restoration Draft Action Plan, securing permits, in-situ coral gardening, and monitoring post outplant reef metrics.  


University of Guam Marine Laboratory

This project outlines a plan to extend ongoing restoration initiated in Guam in 2017. Work has focused on conservation of eight species of staghorn (Acropora) coral, via ocean nursery rearing and re-introduction to healthy habitats. Here, we propose to a) support continuing monitoring of outplant success and nursery maintenance; b) design, build, and expand on our ex situ culture capacity; and c) expand outreach and citizen science. 

Guam Coral Reef Initiative

This project will implement the Guam Coral Reef Restoration Action Plan through the construction of a new pilot coral nursery and the expansion of an existing nursery in collaboration with the Raymundo Coral Lab. The nurseries will propagate outplanting material for high-priority restoration sites identified in the draft coral restoration action plan. The nurseries will be populated with fast-growing species known to exist currently or historically at the identified sites. This project will also support baseline coral cover and diversity surveys at the planned restoration sites. The nurseries will be populated with fast-growing species known to exist currently or historically at the identified sites. This project will also support baseline coral cover and diversity surveys at the planned restoration sites. 


Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources (HI DLNR)

In support of the Makai Restoration Action Plans, the project will (1) engage fishers in drafting the Goal 3: Fisheries Habitat Action Plan, (2) coordinate site-specific planning in Waikīkī for Goal 1: Bleaching, and (3) support the Special Activity Permitting process and environmental review for coral reef restoration projects statewide. 

University of Hawai’i-Hilo (Hawai’i Cooperative Fishery Research Unit); University of Hawai’i-Manoa (Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology); and The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i  

Leverage multi-sector collaborations to provide turbidity and sedimentation thresholds of reef-building coral species at Olowalu Reef on Maui, Hawai‘i. Project will provide information vital to mitigate drivers of reef degradation and to plan the location and timing of coral planting at this priority restoration and beyond. It will also improve the selection of coral taxa and morphologies that are resilient to both sediment and climate stressors. 

All Jurisdictions (CNMI, Guam, Hawaii, American Samoa) 

SECORE International  

Based on SECORE’s successful model for capacity-building in the Caribbean, we will initiate the early steps towards an implementation network in the U.S. Pacific for coral reproduction and seeding. In collaboration with the University of Guam, SECORE will provide both virtual and hands-on training workshops and site-specific scoping plans for implementation of larval restoration in each jurisdiction. 


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve cultural and maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at 


Contact: Chip Weiskotten 

Director of Strategic Communications