Ocean acidification, warming waters, and disease could lead 20 species of Caribbean and Pacific corals to be at risk for extinction by 2100. That argument formed the basis for a decision Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to add them to the list of threatened corals under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"I don’t think we can make any decision anymore about ESA listings without taking into account the reality that the planet is warming, that the ocean is changing, and will continue to change," said Russell Brainard, NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division chief, in explaining the agency’s action. Two coral species are already listed as threatened, a less protective category than endangered. The agency must now decide how to reduce the stress of those changes on coral species, some of which have declined by 90%.
In 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) asked NOAA to list 83 species under the federal law, arguing that each one had declined by at least 30% in 30 years. In 2012, NOAA proposed listing 66 of those petitioned corals as threatened and moving the two species already on the list, the Caribbean elkhorn and staghorn corals (Acropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis), to the most protective category of endangered. NOAA fisheries administrator David Bernhart told reporters yesterday that new information about the abundance of each coral species, their location, and how they respond to threats like pollution and ocean warming led to fewer listings than had been anticipated.