For Immediate Release: June 8, 2006
Endangered Species Act Protection for Corals
Conservationists Call on Regulatory Agencies to
San Francisco, Calif. – Today marks the first day that the Endangered Species Act officially protects Florida’s staghorn and elkhorn corals, two species that are endemic to Florida and the Caribbean and on the brink of extinction.
The new protections require all federal agencies that issue permits, plan projects or take other actions that may affect the corals to consult with coral experts at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). If NMFS determines the activity jeopardizes the corals, the agency will have to modify the activity to protect the species.
“Today we call on all federal agencies to partner with coral reef biologists and ensure their actions aid in the recovery of Florida’s corals,” said Brent Plater with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Elkhorn and staghorn corals were the primary components of coral reef ecosystems off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean for nearly 500,000 years. However, in March 2005, NMFS scientists’ concluded that coral abundance has declined by more than 97 percent throughout significant portions of the species’ ranges since the 1970s – an unprecedented rate of loss that is unmatched in the known history of the Earth. A few months later, record hot water temperatures caused Caribbean corals to suffer the worst mortality event ever recorded by science, further decimating the species.
If these losses are not arrested and reversed, Florida’s corals 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.
On May 9, 2006, NMFS published in the Federal Register its decision to protect these two species under the Endangered Species Act. NMFS explained that the combined effects of sea temperature increases, hurricanes, coral diseases, pollution and other factors are pushing the species toward the brink of extinction, and therefore the species needs to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. To provide the public with adequate notice of its decision, NMFS delayed its effective date until today, June 8, 2006.
“The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers need to take this solemn charge seriously and begin the consultation process on sewage outfall pipes immediately,” said Ed Tichenor of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue. “The destruction and loss of these coral species would 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.”
For more information and photos:
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with over 22,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.