Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 26, 2023


Emily Jeffers, (408) 348-6958,

Lawsuit Aims to Protect 20 Threatened Coral Species in Caribbean, Indo-Pacific

HONOLULU— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the National Marine Fisheries Service today for failing to protect 20 coral species in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific. The corals all received Endangered Species Act listings in 2014 but not protections offered by the law, including prohibitions on collection and sale.

“Truly protecting corals means putting a stop to the aquarium collection and rising water temperatures that are threatening their survival,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney at the Center. “Banning collection and trade of corals is a no-brainer for preventing their extinction, and it’s clear that these suffering species need all the help we can give them. Protection for corals shouldn’t be in name only.”

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fisheries Service to issue protective regulations necessary for the conservation of threatened species. Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Hawai‘i, says the Service has denied those protections for the 20 corals in violation of the Act.

In 2020 the Center petitioned the Fisheries Service to prohibit activities that kill or harm listed coral by banning their import and addressing climate change and local threats. But in 2021 the federal government deemed such protections unnecessary.

Coral populations are declining dramatically worldwide because of climate change, warming oceans and collection for the international aquarium trade, among other factors. Most coral reefs in the world have been harmed by marine heat waves and coral bleaching events, and about half of coral reefs worldwide have already been lost to climate change.

The United States is the world’s largest importer of corals for aquariums but the Service is failing to even monitor trade in coral species that are listed as threatened.

In 2014 the National Marine Fisheries Service listed 20 species of corals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The five Caribbean corals at issue in today’s lawsuit are Dendrogyra cylindrus (pillar coral), Orbicella annularis (lobed star coral), Orbicella faveolata (mountainous star coral), Orbicella franksi (boulder star coral) and Mycetophyllia ferox (rough cactus coral). Among the 15 Indo-Pacific coral species are Acropora jacquelineae, Euphyllia paradivisa and Montipora australiensis.

pillar_coral_and_threespot_damselfish_NOAA_FPWC-scr copy.jpg
Pillar coral and threespot damselfish. Credit: USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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