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For Immediate Release, October 28, 2008

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 308 or (510) 845-6703 (cell)

Disappearing Corals Gain Greater Protection From Human Threats;
Federal Government Bans Activities That Harm Florida's Coral Reefs

SAN FRANCISCO— The federal government today finalized a rule prohibiting activities that kill or harm elkhorn and staghorn corals, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The new rule, published in the Federal Register by the National Marine Fisheries Service, extends the full protections provided under the Act to these imperiled corals that are disappearing off the coast of Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, elkhorn and staghorn corals in 2006 became the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act due to the threat of global warming and ocean acidification. Once the most abundant and important reef-building corals in Florida and the Caribbean, staghorn and elkhorn corals have declined by upwards of 90 percent in many areas, mainly as a result of disease and “bleaching,” an often-fatal stress response to abnormally high water temperatures in which corals expel the symbiotic algae that give them color. The rising ocean temperature caused by global warming and the related threat of ocean acidification resulting from the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide are the greatest threats to these two coral species and coral reefs worldwide. Scientists have predicted that most of the world’s coral reefs will disappear by mid-century unless carbon dioxide emissions are greatly reduced.

“Our coral reefs are disappearing faster than you can say ‘global warming,’ ” said Miyoko Sakashita, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is undeniable that corals need the strongest protections available. We need to take action on every threat that we can manage. Today’s protective regulations are an important step forward in a race to prevent the extinction of our coral reefs.”

The new rule prohibits anyone from “taking” the threatened corals, which includes harassing, harming, or killing them. This makes it unlawful for anyone to injure or kill the corals by:

  • removing or damaging them
  • harming their habitat
  • polluting or contaminating the habitat
  • boating activities that harm or break the corals

It is important that the federal government has acknowledged the role that global warming and elevated carbon dioxide levels play as a threat to the survival of the corals. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere currently are greater than 385 parts per million. Scientists have determined that carbon dioxide levels must be quickly reduced to 350 parts per million or less to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming and the likely loss of coral reefs to ocean acidification.

The new coral regulations, which take effect on November 21st, do not prohibit scientific research and restoration activities that promote the conservation of the species. While many species listed under the Endangered Species Act have these protections, they do not apply to threatened species unless the federal government finds such protections necessary for the conservation of the species.

More information on the elkhorn and staghorn corals is available at:

Photos are also available for use, with attribution, at:  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.

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