For Immediate Release, September 19, 2013
Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308
Endangered Species Act Protections Delayed for 66 Corals Hit Hard by Ocean Warming, Acidification
SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service today delayed for six months a final rule to protect 66 species of coral under the Endangered Species Act. Listing under the Act is crucial to the survival of these corals. It would result in habitat protections, recovery planning, prohibitions on harming corals and, most importantly, prohibition of federal actions that could jeopardize these sensitive species.
On Dec. 7, 2012, the Fisheries Service proposed to list 12 corals as “endangered” and 54 as “threatened” because global warming, disease and ocean acidification are driving them toward extinction. Of the corals covered in the proposed rule, seven live in Florida and the Caribbean and the others live in the Pacific, including Hawaii. That proposed rule triggered a one-year deadline to finalize the rule, at which time protections would take effect; but today the Fisheries Service invoked a rare “scientific disagreement” exception, extending its own deadline by six months to June 7, 2014.
“Unfortunately, the plain truth is that coral reefs are on a rapid path toward extinction and we need to move powerfully and fast to save them,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These corals desperately need the safety net that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”
The proposed protections for corals respond to a 2009 scientific petition from the Center. According to the proposed rule, climate change is the most important threat to these key ocean species, with more than 97 percent of reefs predicted to experience severe thermal stress, which can cause massive bleaching and mortality, by 2050. This threat is compounded by disease and reduced survival and growth due to ocean acidification. Many reefs have already declined substantially: Coral cover in the Caribbean has declined from 50 percent in the 1970s to less than 10 percent now, and similarly from 50 percent to 20 percent in the Indo-Pacific. The decline of reefs threatens important benefits that corals provide for marine diversity, shoreline protection, fisheries and local economies.
“The corals will not receive any protections as endangered species until the rule is finalized. The clocking is ticking for these corals so it’s vital that we move fast to protect them,” said Sakashita.
A final rule to protect these species would minimize the impacts of federal activities that could harm corals such as water pollution, air pollution, dredging, commercial fishing and coastal construction.
For more information about these corals, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/coral_conservation/index.html.
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.