Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 4, 2014

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

Recovery Plan for Florida's Endangered Corals Includes Call to Cut Carbon Pollution

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— A new federal recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn corals near Florida and the Caribbean includes a call for lowering carbon emissions that are driving ocean acidification and raising ocean temperatures. The plan, released today by the National Marine Fisheries Service, is a blueprint for saving the two corals, which were listed as threatened species due to threats from climate change.

Elkhorn coral
Elkhorn coral photo courtesy NOAA. Photos are available for media use.

The Fisheries Service protected these corals under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 in response to a scientific petition from the Center for Biological Diversity. Today’s plan is also the result of a court-approved settlement between the Center and the Fisheries Service.

“After waiting for the better part of a decade, these beautiful coral finally have a concrete plan to move toward recovery,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida-based attorney. “The plan rightly recognizes that we’ll need to manage local threats like nearshore pollution, but also address complex global threats like climate change.”

Today’s plan identifies local, regional and global threats against the species including climate change and ocean acidification. The plan finds that rising ocean temperatures and acidification resulting from global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will impede elkhorn and staghorn recovery. The plan details specific ocean temperature and pH targets; it states that local, state, regional, national and international agreements and regulations are necessary to mitigate threats from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

Reefs in Florida and the Caribbean were once dominated by these beautiful, branching corals, but they declined up to 90 percent in just decades, prompting the Center to petition to list the corals under the Endangered Species Act in 2004. The corals face steep declines due to bleaching from increasing ocean temperatures, pressures from disease, fishing, dredging and pollution, and impacts from ocean acidification. The recovery plan is an important step toward addressing these threats.

The Fisheries Service was required by federal law to develop and implement a recovery plan for the corals. Recovery plans are scientifically necessary, legally required blueprints for species recovery, identifying actions (such as habitat restoration and protection) that are necessary to save the corals from extinction and enable their removal from the Act’s protection once they’ve met recovery goals. Species with dedicated recovery plans are significantly more likely to be improving than species without them. A 2012 study concluded that the Act has been successful in recovering listed species; 90 percent of sampled species have achieved recovery rates that coincide with the goals specified by their recovery plans.

Last week the government issued landmark Endangered Species Act protections to 20 additional coral species in Florida, the Caribbean and the Pacific because of threats from global warming and ocean acidification, in response to a Center petition. While they will get their own recovery plan in the future, the steps outlined in today’s plan will benefit all Caribbean corals.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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