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For Immediate Release, October 11, 2012

Contact:  Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190 or jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

Three Florida Plants, Threatened by Sea-level Rise, Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

More Than 8,000 Acres of Habitat Also Proposed for Protection

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed Endangered Species Act protection for three Florida plants threatened by sea-level rise: the aboriginal prickly apple, Florida semaphore cactus and Cape Sable thoroughwort. The agency also proposed 8,565 acres as protected critical habitat for the Cape Sable thoroughwort. Critical habitat designation was not proposed for the other two species because of concerns they might be poached if their locations were publicized. The decision is part of a historic settlement agreement signed with the Center for Biological Diversity that requires expedited decisions on protection for 757 species around the country.

“These native plants are part of Florida’s scenic landscape and vibrant ecosystems,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Center attorney based in Florida. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will give them a chance to survive and, one day, flourish.”

From the 20-foot-tall aboriginal prickly apple cactus to the demur Cape Sable thoroughwort, these three South Florida plants have all drastically declined in the face of rampant urban sprawl, nonnative species and other factors. Adding insult to injury, the three plants now face the additional threat of sea-level rise due to global warming. 

“It’s indisputable that sea-level rise is already affecting coastal Florida,” said Lopez. “By protecting these plants now, we can plan for their future survival in upland habitats.”

The aboriginal prickly apple is a tall (up to 20-foot) cactus found on the west coast of Florida in Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties among coastal strand vegetation and tropical coastal hammocks. Living in several different, isolated sites totaling less than 100 acres, it is threatened by destruction of coastal habitat via development and sea-level rise. The Fish and Wildlife Service identified the cactus as a candidate species in 2006.

The Florida semaphore cactus is a flowering cactus known from two naturally occurring populations in southern Florida, where it grows close to saltwater on bare rock. Historic threats to the species included habitat destruction and poaching, but its most serious current threat is sea-level rise. It has awaited protection since 1999.

The Cape Sable thoroughwort is a small, flowering south Florida herb found in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Most of its potential habitat has been adversely affected by human activities. As hydrology has a strong influence on plant distribution in coastal areas, this species faces the ongoing threat of sea-level rise. It has been waiting for protection since 1999.

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.


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