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Coral Conservation
KeysNet.com, January 26, 2011

Group seeks 'endangered' status for more corals
By Kevin Wadlow

Saying the federal government missed its deadline for protecting corals, an environmental group file a formal notice Tuesday of its intent to sue.

"The deadlines for action under the Endangered Species Act are very strict for a reason," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's because these species are going extinct."

The center initially petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying that 83 coral species in United States waters qualify for protected status.

In February 2010, the federal agency agreed that evidence on 82 of the coral species -- eight of which can be found in the Florida Keys or U.S. Caribbean -- warrant more extensive review for endangered-species listing. A year later, the government has not completed its review, Sakashita said.

"I have asked [the National Marine Fisheries Service] direct questions on when we can expect their findings," she said. "There has been no answer."

Sakashita said, "Now [the review] is becoming quite overdue. Meanwhile, we're watching dozens of coral species slip into oblivion."

The notice filed Tuesday is the required 60-day advance notice of a lawsuit filing.

Elkhorn coral and staghorn coral are the only two coral species specifically protected under the Endangered Species Act. They were listed as protected species in 2006, in part because of widespread coral losses witnessed in Florida Keys waters. South Atlantic and Caribbean species to be studied as a result of the 2009 petition include:

  • Pillar coral.
  • Mountain star coral.
  • Boulder star coral.
  • Rough cactus coral.
  • Whitestar sheet coral.
  • Elliptical star coral.
  • Lobed star coral.
  • Large ivory coral.

The other species under study are in the Pacific Ocean.

Most stony corals in Keys waters are protected by state law and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary regulations, but designation could lead to additional measures to safeguard the survival of the species.

Corals face a threat of extinction from rising ocean temperatures and increasingly acidic marine waters, Sakashita said.

"Warm water temperatures in 2010 marked the second-most deadly year on record for corals due to bleaching, a process by which they expel the colorful algae needed for their survival. Many corals die or succumb to disease after bleaching," according to the environmental center. "An additional threat to coral reefs is ocean acidification caused by the ocean's absorption of [carbon dioxide]. Ocean acidification has already impaired the ability of some corals to grow, and will soon begin to erode certain coral reefs."

All of the 82 coral species have declined by at least 30 percent over the last three decades, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

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