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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Environmentalists challenge feds on lack of protections for imperiled coral

The government denied a petition to increase protections for corals in the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific threatened by climate change and harvesting in 2021.

(CN) — The Center for Biological Diversity sued the National Marine Fisheries Service on Wednesday claiming the agency has failed to protect corals in the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific threatened by ever-growing climate effects and the world’s largest aquarium industry.  

Although the service is required to develop a program for the conservation and recovery of species it designates under the Endangered Species Act, the 20 species of coral named by the center in the lawsuit received no follow-up conservation efforts after being listed as threatened in 2014.

Like many other marine species, the five Caribbean and 15 Indo-Pacific corals cited in the suit face increased threats from rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification from human pollutants, and are further imperiled through disease, predation and the coral trade.

The center identifies five Caribbean corals in their suit — pillar coral, lobed star coral, mountainous star coral, boulder star coral and rough cactus coral, as well as 15 Indo-Pacific coral species including Acropora jacquelineae, Euphyllia paradivisa and Montipora australiensis.

According to the center, it had previously petitioned the service in 2020 to address concerns on climate threats and for a ban on the import and sale of the threatened corals. The agency, however, denied the petition in 2021.

The center is now bringing a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act for the denial, which Emily Jeffers, attorney for Center for Biological Diversity with the center’s Ocean’s Program said did not offer a sufficient response for why the agency was unable to issue protective regulations for the corals.

“They don’t dispute they have the legal authority under the ESA to expand these protections to the coral species at issue,” Jeffers said in an interview, explaining that the service’s denial said any regulations in enacted would have limited effectiveness to mitigate climate change.

The center also asked to ban the collection and trade of the corals, but Jeffers said the service downplayed the threat as “low-level” and declined to enact any prohibitions.

“It’s pretty uncontroversial that the U.S. is the largest importer of coral, and many of those are threatened species. Especially for the Indo-Pacific corals, the aquarium trade and the importation of corals to the United States is a big threat,” Jeffers said. “Many of the corals we’re talking about are outside of the waters of the United States, they’re in other countries, and so the U.S. doesn’t necessarily have the authority, but they can prohibit the import of the corals. And because the United States is the largest market for corals, that would really reduce the threat to the species.”

The center wants a judge to order the National Marine Fisheries Service and its co-defendants, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and Janet Coit of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, to reconsider their petition and to extend prohibitions on import and sale of coral to the listed corals.

The petition also asks for the service to address land-based threats to coral, like dredging and pollution.

Jeffers also said the service has yet to finalize critical habitats for the corals.

Conservationists have raised the alarm for years about the phenomenon of coral bleaching, which occurs when stressed corals expel the colorful symbiotic algae they rely on for food, causing the organism to turn white and slowly starve to death. Since coral reefs are an important part of the ocean ecosystem that supports a variety of other marine creatures, this has increased threats to those that use the reefs as their habitats.

“Everyone’s reading right now about this marine heat wave that’s hitting Florida and how it’s really harming coral and we just want to make sure the fisheries service uses the full suite of its authority to protect these threatened species because they’re really under assault, not only from climate change but also local threats and collection and trade. We hope they act quickly and take action to prevent these corals from going extinct,” Jeffers said.

Categories / Environment, Government

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