June 14, 2004
Conservationist’s File Notice of Intent to Sue Bush Administration for Failing to Protect Coral Reefs from Extinction
San Francisco - Today the Center for Biological Diversity (the “Center”) filed a notice of intent to sue the Bush administration to protect three coral species native to Florida and the Caribbean under the federal Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The Center filed a petition to protect the coral reefs surrounding Florida in March of 2004. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the Bush Administration was required to respond to the petition the first week of June, but to date has failed to take any action to protect these species.
The three species, Elkhorn, Staghorn, and Fused-Staghorn coral, were the primary components of coral reef ecosystems throughout the Caribbean for nearly 500,000 years. Unfortunately since the 1970’s these species have suffered 80%-98% declines throughout significant portions of their range, an unprecedented rate of loss unmatched in the known history of the Earth. If these losses are not arrested and reversed, these species could go extinct within the foreseeable future, resulting not only in the loss of these irreplaceable forms of life, but also billions of dollars in tourist, recreational, medicinal, and subsistence income.
The unprecedented decline of these coral species is due to the combined effects of disease, thermally induced bleaching, physical destruction from storms, predation, competition, and activities that degrade habitat and water quality. But the best available science indicates that each of these threats has been exacerbated and accelerated by a driving force: global climate change.
“The Bush administration has openly rejected the best available science on global climate change, leaving our coasts vulnerable to destruction, our pocket books vulnerable to enormous expenses, and our marine wildlife threatened with extinction,” said Brent Plater, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It should thus be no surprise that the Bush Administration openly defies the Endangered Species Act, preferring to abdicate its responsibilities until a court orders the administration to protect Florida and its reefs.”
Once listed, these coral species will have a variety of protections put in place. Direct “take” of the corals will be prohibited, critical habitat areas will be protected, and recovery plans will be implemented. Perhaps most importantly, because global climate change is largely driven by greenhouse gas emissions, the listing of these corals will require greenhouse-gas emitting industries to consider the well-being and recovery of these corals before they are given permits to pollute.
“Requiring greenhouse-gas emitting industries to consider how their activities are impacting our most productive marine ecosystems is not only right in principle but also eminently sensible,” said Mr. Plater. “The destruction and loss of these coral species and therefore the loss of major portion of the Florida-reef tract ecosystem will result in the loss of billions of dollars to our economy, the loss of an unknown number of medicines, and decimate local biodiversity. It’s just common sense to consider these impacts before it is too late.”