WASHINGTON (CN) - In response to a court order and a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service has proposed 66 out of 82 candidate coral species for protections under the Endangered Species Act, according to the agency's statement.
"All 82 candidate species are reef-building corals, because they secrete massive calcium carbonate skeletons that form the physical structure of coral reefs," according to the rule.
The agency proposed 12 coral species for endangered status and 54 for threatened status under the act, in addition to a proposed reclassification of two previously listed staghorn and elkhorn species, from threatened to endangered status, according to a Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) statement.
The corals face 19 identified threats with the most significant being ocean warming, coral disease, ocean acidification, trophic effects of reef fishing, sedimentation, nutrients, sea-level rise, predation, and collection and trade, the rule stated.
"As carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, the oceans warm beyond what corals can withstand, leading to bleaching, and the frequency and severity of disease outbreaks increase, causing die-offs," the agency said.
The "trophic effects of reef fishing" threat reflects the complex interplay between species in the ecosystem, such as the herbivorous parrotfish, which eats rapidly growing algae, which could otherwise replace corals as the dominant reef species, the rule noted.
"Corals provide habitat to support fisheries that feed millions of people; generate jobs and income to local economies through recreation, tourism, and fisheries; and protect coastlines from storms and erosion. Yet, scientific research indicates that climate change and other activities are putting these corals at risk. This is an important, sensible next step toward preserving the benefits provided by these species, both now and into the future," Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., and NOAA administrator noted.
When a species is listed as endangered, activities like fishing or diving are not prohibited, but harming, wounding, killing, or collecting the species is. Imports, exports, and commercial activities involving the species also are prohibited. The ESA protections are not automatic for threatened species, but could be established for them as well. "All of these coral species being proposed for listing are already protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species," according to the agency.
"Nothing in the world matches the wonder of a healthy coral reef - rich, colorful and even more fantastical than Dr. Seuss. It's a wake-up call telling us our coral reefs are dying and need federal protection. If we're going to save corals, and lots of other animals in the ocean as well as on land, we have to make rapid cuts in greenhouse gas pollution to stop global warming and ocean acidification," Miyoko Sakashita, the CBD's oceans director said in its press release.
The NOAA will accept public comments for 90 days and plans to hold 18 public meetings before the proposed listing is finalized late in 2013, the agency said.
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