Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 8, 2023


Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950,

Threatened Caribbean Corals Receive Critical Habitat Protections

Safeguards Follow Alarming Marine Heat Wave

WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced critical habitat designations today for five species of Caribbean corals. The agency’s final rule protects 6,500 square miles of marine habitat in Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Navassa Island and the Flower Gardens Banks in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Corals need all the help they can get right now, and I’m relieved to finally see these habitat protections put into place,” said Elise Bennett, Florida and Caribbean director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Ensuring these incredible species have a healthy habitat will help secure their future in a hotter world. We need bold action to address the many threats corals face, from water pollution to fossil fuel-driven climate change. It’s the only way to keep them from sliding into extinction.”

The designations follow a March lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity 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 in today’s rule. All the species were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2014 but did not receive the critical habitat designation the law requires.

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.

Designating critical habitat protection for an endangered species makes it twice as likely to recover as those without safeguards. Critical habitat designation could improve water quality throughout the coastal zone, limit over-fishing and protect spawning grounds, reduce harm from development and dredging, and reduce human pressure on hundreds of thousands of species supported by reefs. The protections do not close off areas for people to swim, fish and recreate.

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.

In 2020, prompted by a legal agreement with the Center, the federal government proposed designating critical habitat protections off the coast of Florida, in the Caribbean, and in the Pacific Ocean. Today’s rule finalizes a portion of that proposal. The Service has not yet released a rule covering Pacific Ocean critical habitat for corals.

The five Caribbean corals that received habitat protection today 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).

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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