U.S. lists 20 corals as threatened; activists want more

Daniel Wallis PlanetArk 29 Aug 14;

The U.S. government pared back the number of reef-building coral species it was considering to label as threatened from 66 to 20 this week, prompting criticism from conservationists.

Environmentalists urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday to extend the protection to all threatened marine species.

"We are concerned with NOAA's unwillingness to acknowledge the widespread threats to the coral species not receiving protections," said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians.

NOAA was considering 66 coral species when it embarked on its study two years ago. On Wednesday it announced its decision, adding the 20 species to two - staghorn and elkhorn - that were listed as threatened in 2006.

Of the new species, five are found in the Caribbean, including pillar coral and rough cactus coral, and 15 in the Indo-Pacific.

A U.N.-backed study warned earlier this year that most reefs in the Caribbean could vanish in the next two decades, hit by the loss of fish and sea urchins that eat coral-smothering algae.

NOAA said it considered wide-ranging public comments as part of the rulemaking process.

"The final decision is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA," Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said in a statement.

"The amount of scientific information sought, obtained and analyzed was unprecedented."

Coral is a stationary animal that slowly grows on sea floors over tens and even hundreds of years. Coral reefs are nurseries for many types of fish, and they also they help protect coasts from storms and tsunamis, as well as attracting tourists.

NOAA was petitioned in 2009 by the Center for Biological Diversity to list 83 of what it said were the most vulnerable coral species found in U.S. waters as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. agency considered 66 of those species for the protected status.

Miyoko Sakashita, the Center's oceans director, said getting 20 species listed on Wednesday was "great news," but also a "bittersweet victory."

"This is a wake-up call that our amazing coral reefs are dying and need federal protection," Sakashita said.

"But there's hope for saving corals and many other ocean animals if we make rapid cuts in greenhouse gas pollution to stop global warming and ocean acidification."

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Adams and Doina Chiacu)

Feds protect 20 species of coral as threatened
SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 28 Aug 14;

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government is protecting 20 types of colorful coral by putting them on the list of threatened species, partly because of climate change.

As with the polar bear, much of the threat to the coral species is because of future expected problems due to global warming, said David Bernhart, an endangered-species official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These coral species are already being hurt by climate change "but not to the point that they are endangered yet," he said.

Climate change is making the oceans warmer, more acidic and helping with coral diseases like bleaching — and those "are the major threats" explaining why the species were put on the threatened list, Bernhart said in a Wednesday conference call.

Other threats include overfishing, runoff from the land, and some coastal construction, but those are lesser, Bernhart said.

Five species can be found off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They include pillar coral, rough cactus coral and three species of star coral. The other 15 are in the Pacific Ocean area near Guam and American Samoa, but not Hawaii.

The agency looked at listing 66 species, but Wednesday listed only 20 for various reasons. All are called threatened, not endangered. Two coral species were already listed.

The agency did not create any new rules yet that would prevent coral from being harvested or damaged.

"There is a growing body of expert scientists talking about a risk of mass extinction in the sea and on land," said Elliott Norse, founder and chief scientist of the Marine Conservation Institute of Seattle. Coral "are organisms on the front line of anything that humans do."

"I hope this wakes people up and we don't have to lose more coral," Norse said.

NOAA: http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/stories/2014/08/corals_listing.html