Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Brent Plater, Staff Attorney, 415-572-6989 (cell)
Kassie Siegel, Climate, Air and Energy Program Director, 951-961-7972 (cell)

Federal Officials Agree Global Warming Threatens Florida’s Coral Reefs, Provide Protection Under Endangered Species Act

Nation’s Safety Net for Imperiled Species Needed to Conserve Corals for Future Generations

Washington, DC –The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that coral reefs native to Florida and the Caribbean are at risk of extinction and must be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s decision to protect Elkhorn and Staghorn coral is in response to an administrative petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity more than two years ago. The petition documents the decline of Florida’s coral reefs and explains why steps must be taken to arrest global warming.

“Federal officials have acknowledged that global warming is an engine driving our coral reefs toward extinction,” said Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today’s announcement is a victory for sound science and coral reef conservation, but we must act quickly to reduce global warming emissions before it is too late to recover our corals.”

Elkhorn and Staghorn coral were the primary components of coral reef ecosystems throughout Florida and the Caribbean for nearly 500,000 years. However, in March 2005, NMFS scientists’ concluded that coral abundance has declined by more than 97 percent since the 1970s throughout significant portions of the species’ ranges – an unprecedented rate of loss 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.

Activities that degrade habitat and water quality are known to harm the coral species. But NMFS scientists believe that the unprecedented decline of these corals is primarily due to the combined effects of disease, thermally induced bleaching, and physical destruction from storms. The best available science indicates that each of these threats has been exacerbated and accelerated by a driving force: global warming. As sea temperatures rise, bleaching events may become more common, coral diseases may become more virulent and deadly, and high-intensity storms may become more frequent.

“Requiring greenhouse-gas emitting industries to consider how their activities are impacting our most productive marine ecosystems is not only scientifically sound but also eminently sensible,” said Plater. “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.”

The U.S. is the world’s largest emitter of the heat-trapping pollution that causes global warming, primarily carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks, power plants, and other sources.

Protections under the Endangered Species Act will aid the conservation of Florida’s coral reefs in a variety of ways:

Recovery Planning - Endangered Species Act protection will result in the production of a coordinated recovery plan that will prioritize and direct conservation efforts, including research into coral diseases and their cures.

Critical Habitat Protections - Endangered Species Act protection will provide additional protections to the corals’ critical habitats. These areas will likely include the pockets of surviving habitats where the corals have avoided declines so far to ensure these areas receive maximum protection. These areas will then serve as a reservoir for recovery and centers for research.

Grappling with Global Warming - Endangered Species Act protection will require major dischargers of greenhouse gas emissions to consider the impact of global warming on these corals. If the impact jeopardizes the corals, the emitters will have to change their activities to protect the corals from further harm.

The rule to protect the corals will become effective after a brief delay designed to provide notice to individuals about the new protections. In the meantime, NMFS will be working to protect critical habitat for the corals and tailoring the protective provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

“We owe it to future generations to leave a legacy of coral reef conservation,” said Plater. “The best way to do that is to ensure that the corals are provided full protection under the law, thereby giving land managers the most effective and flexible tools available for coral conservation.”

For more information and photos, see:

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 24,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.


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