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For Immediate Release, January 25, 2011

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 436-9682 x 308, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org

Lawsuit Seeks Protections for 82 Corals Facing Extinction

Global Warming, Ocean Acidification Remain Top Threats

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of its intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service for the agency’s failure to protect 82 imperiled coral species under the Endangered Species Act. These corals, all of which occur in U.S. waters ranging from Florida and Hawaii to U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific, face numerous dangers, but global warming and ocean acidification are the overarching threats to their survival.

In 2009, the Center petitioned to protect 83 corals under the Act; the government found that listing might be warranted for all except one species. However, the government has failed to meet its deadline to determine whether listing is warranted and propose rules to protect these beleaguered corals. Today’s 60-day notice is a prerequisite to filing suit.

“Time is of the essence to protect coral reefs, the world’s most endangered ecosystems,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “Within a few decades, global warming and ocean acidification threaten to completely unravel magnificent coral reefs that took millions of years to build.”

Scientists warn that by mid-century, coral reefs are likely to be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to carbon dioxide pollution, which causes both global warming and ocean acidification. Warm water temperatures in 2010 marked the second-most deadly year on record for corals due to bleaching — a process by which they expel the colorful algae needed for their survival. Many corals die or succumb to disease after bleaching. An additional threat to coral reefs is ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of CO2. Ocean acidification has already impaired the ability of some corals to grow, and will soon begin to erode certain coral reefs.

“Halting the extinction of coral reefs and the marine life that depends upon them is an enormous undertaking, and the Endangered Species Act has an important role to play,” said Sakashita. “But without rapid reductions in CO2 pollution, the fate of the world’s reefs will be sealed.”

In 2006, elkhorn and staghorn corals, which occur in Florida and the Caribbean, became the first, and to date the only, corals protected under the Endangered Species Act. But many other corals are also at risk of disappearing. Protection under the Act would open the door to greater opportunities for coral reef conservation, as activities ranging from fishing, dumping and dredging to offshore oil development — all of which hurt corals — would be subject to stricter regulation. The Act would require federal agencies to ensure that their actions do not harm corals, which could result in agencies approving projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions to consider and minimize such impacts on vulnerable coral species.

For more information about the Center’s coral conservation campaign, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/coral_conservation/index.html.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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