Twenty coral species found in American waters now have Endangered Species Act protections.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that the corals would be listed as threatened.
WMNF News’ Seán Kinane interviewed Shaye Wolf, the climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“This decision is a really big step forward for coral conservation and for preventing the further decline of our nation’s coral reefs. And so what happened is twenty coral species that live in US waters now have new protection under the Endangered Species Act, that’s going to help them better survive the threats that they face: threats from climate change and many local threats from pollution, dredging, construction. And of those species that were protected, there are twenty species protected and five were protected in Florida waters and the Caribbean, the Puerto Rico and U.S Virgin Islands and another fifteen were protected in Pacific waters. So, there are twenty coral species that have new protections.”
You mentioned the threats like climate change and pollution, what kinds of threats are corals facing?
“Yes, Coral species worldwide are in crisis and the most severe threat is from global warming. So ocean temperatures have becoming hotter and that’s causing many corals reefs to bleach which can lead to death. And coral reefs are also suffering from ocean acidification. So, our carbon dioxide pollution is making ocean waters more acidic and that can reduce coral growth. So the key threats to corals are due to our carbon dioxide pollution. And there are other threats coral face, more local threats. So corals face coastal runoff that harms them, they face threats from overfishing of reefs, from coastal construction, from dredging, from disease, so there are a whole suite of threats that corals are facing. But the key threat that NOAA identified — that the federal government identified – for these corals are from global warming and ocean acidification.”
Why it’s important to protect Corals?
“Corals are often called the rain forests of the ocean; and it’s estimated that they could harbor and support about one quarter of known marine species. So they are important for enhancing ocean life, for increasing and enhancing marine diversity. And they also provide other benefits; so they provide shoreline protection; protection from storms. And also help support tourism: many people want to go to coral reefs to dive and to snorkel. They also help support fisheries and local economies. I think that is estimated that about a billion people around the world really depend on coral reefs for their livelihood. They are incredibly important and they are so important for supporting our incredible marine life.”
That’s in general; but specifically here in Florida, it’s a very big industry. What could you tell our listeners about the importance of coral reefs in Florida?
“Yeah, well, I was born & raised in South Florida and so coral reefs are main draw for tourism. And so many people are going to the Florida Keys, are going to see the beauty of the reefs to snorkel and to dive. And coral reefs also support fish species – they are incredibly important habitat for hundreds of fish species, for many of the things that fisheries depend on. And so they are not only important for tourism but for fisheries for local livelihoods and they’re just incredibly beautiful. It’s part of this amazing world wild life.”
NOAA’s listing is that these species can be considered threatened species which is different than endangered. Tell our listeners the difference here and what you think about the fact that they are listed as threatened rather than endangered?
“NOAA originally proposed many of these species are endangered that would give them an extra level of protection. As threatened species, NOAA is saying that these species are threatened with extinction in the foreseeable future: over the next few decades these coral species are threatened with extinction. They still get as threatened species important protections. So they are going get recovery plans with concrete steps to help them survive and recover. They’ll get habitat protection And really importantly, the Federal government will have to ensure that their action don’t harm these corals. So when a Federal agency gives a permit for coastal construction or dredging or energy projects, they have to ensure that those projects don’t harm the corals. And they can improve projects to make them better so they are not further jeopardizing these imperiled coral species.”
And finally I read that NOAA was considering sixty-six species for listing but only ended up listing twenty. What’s going on with the other forty-six species? Are they doing just fine or are they are also being watched?
“Yes, so it’s disappointing that a lot of coral species that deserve protection and needed protection didn’t get it. So sixty-six corals were proposed for protections and only twenty got them as you mentioned. And NOAA has said it has looked at additional information that’s come in and decided that those corals are going to be on a watch, kind of, and wait list. Those corals, though, were flagged by the IECN, which is the international organization that oversees the list of endangered species or that flags of endangered species. And they identified all those corals as declining and very vulnerable. So those corals are certainly in trouble and need protection and it’s disappointing they didn’t get it.”