SAN FRANCISCO— The federal government proposed today that 66 species of coral should be newly protected under the Endangered Species Act, 12 as “endangered” and 54 as “threatened,” because global warming, disease and ocean acidification are driving them toward extinction. Today’s proposed rule by the National Marine Fisheries Service responds to a 2009 scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity seeking the Act’s protection for 83 corals in U.S. waters. Of the corals covered in the proposed rule, seven occur in Florida and the Caribbean and the remaining live in the Pacific, including Hawaii.
“Nothing in the world matches the wonder of a healthy coral reef — rich, colorful and even more fantastical than Dr. Seuss. It’s a wake-up call telling us our coral reefs are dying and need federal protection. If we’re going to save corals, and lots of other animals in the ocean as well as on land, we have to make rapid cuts in greenhouse gas pollution to stop global warming and ocean acidification,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center’s oceans director.
According to the proposed rule, climate change is the most important threat to these key ocean species, with more than 97 percent of reefs predicted to experience severe thermal stress, which can cause massive bleaching and mortality, by 2050. This threat is compounded by disease and reduced survival and growth due to ocean acidification. Many reefs have already declined substantially: A new study documented that the Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover in 27 years, while other reefs are on a similar course, with those in Florida and the Caribbean being the most critically imperiled. The rule notes that coral cover in the Caribbean has declined from 50 percent in the 1970s to less than 10 percent now, and similarly from 50 percent to 20 percent in the Indo-Pacific.
“It’s a bittersweet victory to declare these animals endangered — I’m deeply saddened by the fact that our extraordinary coral reefs are on the brink of extinction, but there’s hope in the fact that our endangered species law is powerful and effective,” said Sakashita.
Protection under the Endangered Species Act would mean habitat protections, recovery planning, prohibitions on harming corals, and most importantly prohibition of federal actions that could jeopardize the corals. The government is accepting comments on the listing proposal for corals for 90 days and will hold public hearings.
For more information about these corals and how to submit comments, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/coral_conservation/index.html.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Center for Biological Diversity, 30 November 2012. Press release.