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For Immediate Release, September 13, 2013

Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190,

Settlement Will Help Save Florida Corals Threatened by Global Warming

TAMPA, Fla.— In a settlement filed in federal court today, the National Marine Fisheries Service committed to developing a recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn corals that live in Florida and throughout the Caribbean. The agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the federal agency ensures that the Fisheries Service will publish a draft plan by 2014 and promptly finalize it in the following months. These corals were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 because of threats from global warming and ocean acidification but, before today’s settlement agreement, had still not received the legally required recovery plan needed to save them from extinction.

Elkhorn coral
Elkhorn coral photo courtesy NOAA. Photos are available for media use.

Meanwhile, the agency has proposed to reclassify the corals from “threatened” to the even more serious category of “endangered” because of their rapid decline.

“A recovery plan and quick action to reduce carbon dioxide pollution are the two missing pieces necessary to save these beautiful corals from extinction,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney at the Center.

Elkhorn and staghorn corals have declined by 90 percent since the 1970s and now need the safety net of the Endangered Species Act to survive. The Center authored a scientific petition in 2004 to protect the two corals under the Endangered Species Act due to impacts of global warming and ocean acidification. Reefs in Florida and the Caribbean were once dominated by these beautiful, branching elkhorn and staghorn corals, but now the species face steep declines due to bleaching from increasing ocean temperatures, pressures from disease, fishing and pollution, and impacts from ocean acidification.

“Healthy coral reefs support Florida’s fisheries and thriving marine life, so a plan to recover them is a good thing for Florida,” said Lopez.

The Fisheries Service is required by federal law to develop and implement a recovery plan for the corals, needed to identify actions necessary to save the corals from extinction — such as habitat restoration and protection — and enable their removal from the Act’s protection once they’ve met recovery goals. Species with dedicated recovery plans are significantly more likely to be improving than species without. A 2012 study concluded that the Act has been successful in recovering listed species; 90 percent of sampled species have achieved recovery rates that coincide with the goals specified by their recovery plans.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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