SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced that it is launching a full status review to determine whether 82 corals, threatened with extinction by global warming and ocean acidification, warrant the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The decision comes in response to a scientific petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity seeking protection for the corals, followed by a notice of intent to sue for failing to respond to the petition.
“The status review is an important step forward in protecting coral reefs, which scientists have warned may be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to global warming,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered Species Act protection can provide a safety net for corals on the brink of extinction.”
As a result of today’s decision, the 82 corals will be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act; the government will decide whether endangered or threatened status is warranted for the corals by the end of the year. The new finding concluded that the corals, all of which occur in U.S. waters ranging from Florida and Hawaii to U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific, faced with population declines of 30 percent or greater combined with large scale threats such as climate change and ocean acidification could cause coral populations to collapse and make it difficult for them to recover.
“Coral reefs are the world’s most endangered ecosystems and provide an early warning of impacts to come from our thirst for fossil fuels,” said Sakashita. “Within a few decades, global warming and ocean acidification threaten to completely unravel magnificent coral reefs that took millions of years to build.”
When corals are stressed by extreme ocean temperatures, they are vulnerable to bleaching and death. Mass bleaching events have become much more frequent and severe as ocean temperatures have risen in recent decades, and scientists predict that most of the world’s corals will be subjected to mass bleaching events at deadly frequencies within 20 years on our current emissions path. Further, ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide, impairs the ability of corals to grow and build their protective skeletons. Therefore, global warming and ocean acidification are an overriding threat to coral reefs that have already experienced population declines from threats such as destructive fishing, agriculture runoff, pollution, abrasion, predation, and disease.
Protection under the Endangered Species Act would open the door to greater opportunities for coral reef conservation, as activities ranging from fishing, dumping, dredging, and offshore oil development, all of which hurt corals, would be subject to stricter regulatory scrutiny. The Endangered Species Act would also require federal agencies to ensure that that their actions do not harm corals, which could result in agencies approving projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions to consider and minimize such impacts on vulnerable coral species.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is soliciting comments on the corals for 60 days.
For more information about the Center’s coral conservation campaign, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/coral_conservation/index.html.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.