HONOLULU— The Trump administration has finally agreed to make a decision about protecting cauliflower coral around Hawaii under the Endangered Species Act. In an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity filed in federal district court in Honolulu today, the National Marine Fisheries Service says it will determine whether the coral warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act by June 30.
The Center petitioned to protect this bushy, shallow-water coral species that has been devastated by ocean warming, with its coverage around Hawaii declining by 36% from 1999 to 2012. Cauliflower corals experienced severe bleaching during last summer’s record-breaking temperatures. The Fisheries Service said last year that listing under the Act might be warranted, but failed to follow up, prompting the Center to sue in October 2019.
“The Trump administration can’t keep stalling decisions to protect cauliflower coral and other vulnerable species,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawaii director. “Time is running out to save our coral reefs and the rich marine biodiversity they support. Hawaii’s coral reefs urgently need protection. Cauliflower coral, which is called ko’a in Hawaiian, will only be here for future generations if we take care of it now.”
Cauliflower coral is a major reef-building coral that protects Hawaii’s shorelines and provides habitat for fish and crabs. New research indicates human-induced climate change and ocean warming could destroy most of the world’s coral reefs by 2100 if we do not make major reductions in fossil fuel use.
While protecting corals ultimately requires reducing global temperature increases by cutting carbon pollution, cauliflower coral is also threatened by land-based pollution, sedimentation, and physical disturbances by humans. An Endangered Species Act listing could help minimize and mitigate those threats. Federally permitted projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions should also mitigate harm to listed corals.
An earlier coral listing petition, filed by the Center in 2006, resulted in the protection of elkhorn and staghorn corals, which became the first species ever protected under the Act because of the threat of global warming.
People can still swim, surf, snorkel, fish and enjoy the ocean and coral reefs. Listing gives corals added protection from federally permitted activities such as coastal construction and military activities, while also requiring science-based recovery planning.