Washington — The United States announced August 27 that it will afford Endangered Species Act protections to 20 coral species. All 20 species will be listed as “threatened,” a less dire classification than “endangered.”
Fifteen of the newly listed species occur in the Indo-Pacific waters and five are native to the Caribbean, according to the Department of Interior’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, providing habitat for many marine species. Protecting and conserving these biologically rich ecosystems is essential, and the Endangered Species Act gives us the tools to conserve and recover those corals most in need of protection,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA fisheries. “The final decision is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA. The amount of scientific information sought, obtained and analyzed was unprecedented.”
The final rule is a significant change from the proposed rule issued in November 2012. Since the rule was proposed for public comment, many new scientific papers on climate change and coral habitat, distribution and abundance have been published and NOAA was able to consider and incorporate new information into the final decision.
The agency said it also considered extensive comments from the public as part of the final rule-making action.The new data submitted after the rule was proposed strengthened the body of species-specific information available to NOAA for its final determination, according to the agency.That new information also improved NOAA’s understanding of coral habitat diversity, abundance, distribution and species-specific exposure to threats and their relative vulnerability or resilience.NOAA said it plans to continue to work with communities to help them understand how the agency’s decision may or may not affect them. The agency said that the methods to achieve compliance with the Endangered Species Act are sufficiently flexible so that they can be used for partnerships with coastal jurisdictions in a way that allows activities to move forward without jeopardizing listed coral.