The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a department under NOAA, recently published at status review that showed 52 species of coral in the United States are likely to go EXTINCT by the end of the century. Yikes!!!


Now, NMFS is in the process of evaluating whether 82 species of coral (from the Pacific and the Caribbean) should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Of these 82 corals in question, Florida suggests 7 from our region must be classified as endangered.


Here’s how this process began:


In October of 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned NOAA (NMFS) to list 83 species of coral under the Endangered Species Act. Required by law, NMFS had 90 days to make a “finding” on this petition and initiate a status review. After examining the petitioned species, NMFS dropped one deep water species from the list and went on assess the risk of extinction for the 82 species of coral.


A team of 7 marine scientists was assembled to evaluate each of the corals. They came to the conclusion that the greatest threats to these corals include: warming ocean temperatures, disease, and acidification, all a result of human induced climate change brought on by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. The team of scientists concluded that there is a 55% likelihood of extinction by the year 2100 for these species of coral. Corals with the highest risk of extinction include those found right here in Florida. Their risk is greater due to their small geographic range and small population size compared to those in the Pacific.


A government process that includes the public (hooray!):


To include the public, NFMS held 2 workshops in the United States…and one was right here in South Florida at my alma mater Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center. At this June meeting, representatives of NOAA and the NFMS team who devised the status review explained their methods and what would happen next in the regulatory process. A number of researchers from Florida’s universities also gathered at this event to share their most recent findings on coral ecology and climate change. However, there was no consensus or recommendation made from this workshop; it turned out to simply be NOAA’s way of “including” the scientific community and taking their input into account, rather than taking action.

If NOAA Fisheries does come to the conclusion that these corals should be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) they will publish a proposed rule in December 2012 for additional public comment.


What would ESA protection mean for corals?


Upon being listed under the ESA, corals would receive additional protection which no other regulations can offer at this time. When a species is listed as endangered or threatened, NFMS is required to also designate critical habitat for that species. But, here’s the catch straight from NMFS’s website:


“A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge; it applies only when Federal funding, permits, or projects are involved. Under Section 7 of the ESA, all Federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species, or destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat.”


So what is the point of listing corals as endangered?


It will force people to take notice and see that there are severe consequences for their actions (i.e. excessive greenhouse gas emissions). Endangered species receive a lot more publicity and aide than those not recognized by the government. Hopefully, listing under the ESA will spur further action in reducing our greenhouse emissions and becoming better stewards of marine life.



Want to learn more about coral reefs? Watch this amazing video on YouTube: