NOAA expands protection for two coral species
The Bush administration announced additional protections today for two imperiled Atlantic coral species.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it would
prohibit all commercial activities involving elkhorn and staghorn
The special rule gives additional protection to the corals that they would not have otherwise received under the "threatened" category, which is less stringent than an "endangered" listing under the Endangered Species Act.
"What they've done is significant," said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney
with the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the original
The two corals are the main reef-building species off the southeast Florida coast and throughout the Caribbean Sea. NOAA has identified disease, rising sea surface temperatures and damage from hurricanes as the chief threats to the corals.
"These corals were once the major reef builders in Florida and the Caribbean, but now more than 90 percent of their populations are lost," said Roy Crabtree, NOAA's Fisheries Service's Southeast regional administrator. "That not only threatens their survival -- it affects the entire ecosystem."
The rules, which will take effect Nov. 21, prohibit anyone from
importing, exporting or directly taking the corals. Boats must avoid
Sakashita said the regulations should force the government to think twice about nutrient runoff, beach "renourishment" and development in the Caribbean and Florida. Renourishment projects -- placing extra sand on beaches to offset erosion -- can cloud nearshore waters with excessive sediment, blocking sunlight that corals need to thrive.
"They are not going to stop those activities, but they are going to have
to ensure they are done in a way that doesn't kill corals or goes
NOAA is also in the process of finalizing critical habitat for the
corals. The decision on habitat protection is required by the end of
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