Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 5, 2015

Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 385-5746

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

WASHINGTON— The final federal recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn corals near Florida and in the Caribbean includes a call for lowering carbon emissions that are driving ocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures. The plan, released today by the National Marine Fisheries Service, is a roadmap 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.

“The clock is ticking to save these beautiful corals so I’m happy to see there’s finally a concrete plan to move them toward recovery,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “The plan rightly recognizes that we’ll need to manage local threats like near-shore pollution, but also address complex global threats like climate change.”

Today’s plan identifies local, regional and global threats to the species, including climate change and ocean acidification. It 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 acidification targets and says local, state, regional, national and international agreements and regulations are necessary to mitigate threats from increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

“Recovery plans work, but only if they’re followed,” Wolf said. “If we’re going to save these disappearing corals, and indeed the scores of other marine animals hit hard by warming waters and acidifying oceans, we need to press forward now with significant measures to reduce carbon pollution.”

Reefs in Florida and the Caribbean were once dominated by these beautiful, branching corals, but the species declined by 97 percent in mere decades, prompting the Center to petition to list them 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 is 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 Endangered Species Act’s protection once they’ve met recovery goals. Species with dedicated recovery plans are twice as 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 year 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 these species 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 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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