Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 28, 2023


Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950,

Pillar Coral Proposed for Increased Endangered Species Act Protection

Species Status Would Change From Threatened to Endangered

WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed today to change the status of the pillar coral, a species found in Florida waters and elsewhere in the Caribbean, from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The proposal is based on population declines and susceptibility to a recently emerged coral disease, according to the Service.

“This summer’s record-breaking marine heat waves have been truly devastating for coral populations, so I’m relieved that the pillar coral may get more protection,” said Elise Bennett, Florida and Caribbean director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Corals are an important species for keeping reef ecosystems intact, and we urgently need to do everything we can to keep them alive and healthy. We don’t have any time to waste.”

Today’s proposal follows the Service’s designation of critical habitat in early August for five Caribbean coral species, including the pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus).

Those designations followed a March lawsuit filed by the Center against the Fisheries Service for failing to finalize protections for 12 threatened coral species around Florida and islands in the Pacific Ocean, including the five that received habitat designations. All the species were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2014 but did not receive the critical habitat protection the law requires.

Scientists estimated in 2020 that only 40 unique pillar coral individuals remained in Florida. Coral populations have declined dramatically because of climate change, pollution and overfishing. An estimated 50% of coral reefs worldwide have already been lost to climate change, and about one-third of reef-building coral species are at risk of extinction. A marine heat wave off the Florida coast in July caused the most severe coral bleaching event in the state’s history.

The Fisheries Service listed 20 species of corals in 2014 as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, with 12 of them occurring within U.S. waters.

Pillar coral with damselfish
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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