Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 21, 2016

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

Two Florida Plants Threatened by Sea-level Rise
Receive More Than 7,800 Acres of Endangered Species Habitat Protection

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— As part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 7,855 acres of critical habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act for two Florida plants threatened by sea-level rise. Most populations of the aboriginal prickly apple and Florida semaphore cactus live at, or just above, mean sea level. The plants were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2013 as the result of a Center petition and lawsuit.

“The Service has done a great job of moving quickly to get these plants the protections they need to survive sea-level rise,” said attorney Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida director. “Management under the Endangered Species Act will ensure that these two beautiful and rare plants will be around for generations to come.”

The Service designated 4,411 acres for the Florida semaphore cactus in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, and 3,444 acres for the aboriginal prickly apple in Manatee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties. The critical habitat designation requires federal agencies to consult with the Service to ensure that any federally funded or permitted actions will not damage or destroy the plants’ critical habitat.

The aboriginal prickly apple lives in coastal strand vegetation communities and tropical coastal hammocks. Most of its 12 coastal sites are at risk of being wiped out by sea-level rise. The Florida semaphore cactus is found naturally in Biscayne National Park and on Little Torch Key. Sea-level rise may already be contributing to this plant’s decline as rising seas increase soil salinity in its buttonwood forests and rockland hammocks.

If worst-case sea-level-rise projections become a reality, much of these plants’ habitat will be inundated. In order to survive, the plants will likely need to be reintroduced to suitable higher-elevation sites outside their historical ranges, and scientists predict that they will likely escape extinction only if emissions are reduced and the worst sea-level rise predictions are not realized.

The critical habitat protections are part of a historic settlement agreement, signed with the Center in 2011, which requires expedited decisions on protection for 757 species around the country.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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