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May 10, 2005


CONTACT: BRENT PLATER 415-436-9682 x 301
More Information: Coral Web Site


National Marine Fisheries Service Publishes Proposed Rule to Protect Corals in Response to Endangered Species Act Citizen Petition

San Francisco- As promised nearly two months ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“Fisheries Service”) has published a proposed rule to protect two coral species native to Florida and the Caribbean under the federal Endangered Species Act, the world’s most effective safety net for fish and wildlife.

The two species, Elkhorn and Staghorn coral, were once so abundant in Florida and the Caribbean that entire reef ecosystems were known as the “Palmata zone” in reference to one species’ scientific name. But since the 1970’s the corals declined by 80-98% throughout significant portions of their ranges. The corals were decimated by diseases, frequent hurricanes, and coral bleaching. All of these threats are exacerbated by global warming.

“The coral reefs of Florida and the Caribbean are one of the world’s great biological assets, and it is our shared responsibility to do what we can to protect these corals,” said Brent Plater, lead author of the petition to protect the corals under the Endangered Species Act. “We owe it to future generations to protect the corals, and that means grappling with threats such as global warming. When the proposed rule is finalized, we’ll have the power and flexibility to do just that.”

While the proposed rule does carry some immediate protections, the major substantive protections will only be in place once the protections are finalized. These protections include:

  • 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 so far avoided declines, to ensure that these areas receive maximum protection. These areas will then serve as a reservoir of recovery and centers for research.
  • Grappling with Global Warming- Endangered Species Act protection will require major sources of greenhouse gas emissions to consider the impact of global warming on these corals, and if the impact jeopardizes the corals the emitters will have to change their ways to protect the corals from further harm.

“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 Mr. 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 public can now submit information to the Fisheries Service to support the protection process. Already four public hearings are scheduled, and written comments can be submitted to the agency until August 8, 2005. A final rule protecting the corals must be published within 12 months, and will be based in part on the comments received by the public.

Click here for proposed rule.


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