(ENS) – The federal government has proposed that 66 species of coral in U.S. waters should be protected under the Endangered Species Act because global warming, disease and ocean acidification are pushing them toward extinction.
Under the rule proposed by NOAA Fisheries, 12 species of coral would be listed as Endangered and 54 as Threatened. Listing species as Endangered does not prohibit activities like fishing or diving, but prohibits the specific “take” of those species, including harming, wounding, killing, or collecting the species. It also prohibits imports, exports, and commercial activities dealing in the species. Listing would mean habitat protection, recovery planning and prohibition of federal actions that could jeopardize the corals.
Of the 66 corals covered in NOAA’s proposed rule, seven live in Florida and the Caribbean. In these waters, five corals would be listed as endangered and two as threatened. The other 59 species proposed for protection live in the Pacific, including Hawaii. In the Pacific, seven species would be listed as endangered and 52 as threatened.
NOAA Fisheries is also proposing that two Caribbean species – elkhorn and staghorn corals – already listed under the ESA be reclassified from threatened to endangered.
“Healthy coral reefs are among the most economically valuable and biologically diverse ecosystems on earth,” said NOAA administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco. “Corals provide habitat to support fisheries that feed millions of people; generate jobs and income to local economies through recreation, tourism, and fisheries; and protect coastlines from storms and erosion. Yet, scientific research indicates that climate change and other activities are putting these corals at risk.”
“Corals are facing severe threats, and it’s highly likely that these threats will increase over time,” NOAA said in its proposal. The agency notes that coral cover in the Caribbean has declined from 50 percent in the 1970s to less than 10 percent today.
“The three major threats identified – rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and disease – are all directly or indirectly linked to greenhouse gas emissions and a changing climate,”
One independent study cited by NOAA reports that coral reefs provide approximately $483 million in annual net benefit to the U.S. economy from tourism and recreation activities and a combined annual net benefit from all goods and services of about $1.1 billion. NOAA also estimates the annual commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs to be more than $100 million; reef-based recreational fisheries generate an additional $100 million annually.
Together, the Status Review, Supplemental Information, and Final Management reports form the basis of NOAA’s proposed listing of these 66 corals. Click here for a list of all 66 corals.