Quantcast

Feds Must Act to Protect 82 Coral Species from Extinction

Center for Biological Diversity

In an agreement filed Sept. 27 in federal court, the U.S. government pledged to determine by April 15, 2012, whether the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections are needed for 82 species of coral. The settlement is the result of a 2009 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity asking the federal government to list the corals as threatened or endangered. That decision is now overdue. The corals, which occur in U.S. waters ranging from Florida and Hawaii to American territories in the Caribbean and Pacific, have all declined by more than 30 percent over a 30-year period. Coral reefs around the world are facing extinction due to overfishing, pollution and the overarching threats of global warming and ocean acidification.

“Unless we protect them right now, coral reefs will be lost within decades, and our grandchildren will never see these colorful underwater forests teeming with life,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's oceans program. “The settlement is a victory for corals because it will speed efforts to reduce threats and protect coral habitat.”

Scientists warn that by mid-century, coral reefs are likely to be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to carbon dioxide pollution, which causes both global warming and ocean acidification. 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. An additional threat to coral reefs is ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of CO2. Ocean acidification has already impaired the ability of some corals to grow and will soon begin to erode certain reefs.

“Today’s agreement is an important step toward legal protections for some of the most vulnerable coral reefs,” said Sakashita. “Protecting corals as endangered species will promote their conservation, but we also need decisive action to reduce global warming and ocean acidification to ensure the recovery of magnificent reefs.”

In 2006, elkhorn and staghorn corals—which occur in Florida and the Caribbean—became the first, and to date the only, corals protected under the ESA. But many other corals are also at high risk of disappearing. Protection under the ESA would open the door to greater opportunities for coral reef conservation, as activities ranging from fishing, dumping and dredging to offshore oil development—all of which hurt corals—would be subject to stricter regulation. The ESA would require federal agencies to ensure that their actions do not harm corals, which could result in agencies that are required to approve projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions to consider and minimize those projects’ impacts on vulnerable corals.

Among the corals in the agreement are:

Mountainous star coral (Montastraea faveolata)

Once considered the dominant reef building coral of the Atlantic, more than half of these corals have disappeared in just three decades. This Caribbean coral is susceptible to bleaching, ocean acidification, pollution and disease. The decline and death of this coral is outpacing its ability to grow and build new colonies.

Blue rice coral (Montipora flabellata)

Only found in Hawaii, blue rice coral is uncommon and thrives in shallow reefs pounded by waves. Although this coral is usually flat and sheetlike, on one reef in Molokai it grows branches with an opening at the tip that provides a home to small shrimp. Blue rice coral is vulnerable to bleaching, habitat degradation and disease.

Hawaiian reef coral (Montipora dilatata)

Hawaiian reef coral remains in fewer than five locations. It has the unfortunate trait of being among the first corals to bleach during increased water temperatures, and the slowest to recover. It has experienced significant climate-related population fluctuations over the last 20 years, and its small distribution makes it extremely vulnerable to extinction. Hawaiian reef coral has been considered a species of concern by the National Marine Fisheries Service since 2004.

Flowerpot coral (Alveopora allingi)

As its common name suggests, flowerpot coral resembles a bouquet of flowers. Overexploited by the aquarium trade and rapidly losing habitat, this coral is found in American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau and other areas of the Pacific. Flowerpot coral has the highest bleaching response of any coral genus, making it extremely vulnerable to global warming.

Acropora corals

Acropora corals are the most abundant corals on the majority of the reefs in the Indo-Pacific. However, these corals are extremely sensitive to bleaching and disease, and they’re slow to recover. Our petition seeks to protect several Acropora corals found in Hawaii and the greater Pacific. Two Acropora species in the Caribbean—elkhorn and staghorn corals—are already protected as threatened under the ESA as a result of a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

For more information, click here.

—————

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A vegan diet can improve your health, but experts say it's important to keep track of nutrients and protein. Getty Images

By Dan Gray

  • Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
  • A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
  • It isn't necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it's beneficial to limit meat intake.

New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

Read More Show Less
Students gathered at the National Mall in Washington DC, Sept. 20. NRDC

By Jeff Turrentine

Nearly 20 years have passed since the journalist Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term tipping point, in his best-selling book of the same name. The phrase denotes the moment that a certain idea, behavior, or practice catches on exponentially and gains widespread currency throughout a culture. Having transcended its roots in sociological theory, the tipping point is now part of our everyday vernacular. We use it in scientific contexts to describe, for instance, the climatological point of no return that we'll hit if we allow average global temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. But we also use it to describe everything from resistance movements to the disenchantment of hockey fans when their team is on a losing streak.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
samael334 / iStock / Getty Images

By Ruairi Robertson, PhD

Berries are small, soft, round fruit of various colors — mainly blue, red, or purple.

Read More Show Less
A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on Sept. 6, near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mark Mancini

On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.

Read More Show Less
Members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America table at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18. Alex Schwartz

By Alex Schwartz

Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
StephanieFrey / iStock / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Muffins are a popular, sweet treat.

Read More Show Less
Hackney primary school students went to the Town Hall on May 24 in London after school to protest about the climate emergency. Jenny Matthews / In Pictures / Getty Images

By Caroline Hickman

Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?

Read More Show Less
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less