Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 29, 2019


Maxx Phillips, (808) 284-0007,

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Hawaii’s Cauliflower Coral After 36 Percent Decline

Endangered Species Act Petition Cites Coverage Loss Due to Climate Change

HONOLULU— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to protect cauliflower coral around the Hawaiian Islands. The bushy, shallow-water coral species has been devastated by ocean warming triggered by human-caused climate change.

Responding to a Center petition to list cauliflower coral under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service last September announced that listing may be warranted and opened a 90-day review. Officials have failed to follow up on the listing decision, prompting today’s notice letter from the Center.

“As climate change wreaks havoc on this beautiful purple and pink coral, federal officials are dragging their feet on protecting it,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawaii director. “Coral reefs are so important to Hawaii, and they support our ocean’s biodiversity and protect our coasts. The federal government has a legal and moral responsibility to protect cauliflower coral and coral reefs from the climate crisis.”

Cauliflower coral coverage around Hawaii declined by 36 percent from 1999 to 2012, and the species is threatened throughout its range. While protecting corals ultimately requires reducing global temperature increases by cutting fossil fuel emissions, 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.

Cauliflower corals have been particularly vulnerable to bleaching episodes on reefs around the world. Between 2014 and 2017, a massive coral-bleaching event swept across the planet, killing millions of corals on hundreds of reefs from Hawaii to the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists say it was likely the most widespread, harmful and longest mass coral bleaching ever.

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.

“Cauliflower coral is called Ko’a in Hawaiian,” Phillips said. “We want to protect it but we need federal help. Healthy coral reefs are the foundation of healthy oceans.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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