Legal action launched to protect endangered coral species

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WASHINGTON—The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government for failing to protect 20 species of coral in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific. The corals all received Endangered Species Act listings in 2014, but not the protective regulations required by law, including bans on collection and sale.

Today’s notification letter to the National Marine Fisheries Services comes as corals around the world are in dramatic decline. They are threatened by climate change and collection for trade in the international aquarium industry, among other issues.

“Prohibiting the collection and import of endangered corals is the bare minimum that federal authorities should do to protect these amazing creatures,” said Center attorney Emily Jeffers. “Ocean warming and trade are existential threats to these corals. If we want to prevent corals from disappearing, we must give them the strongest protections available.

In 2020, the Center asked the Department of Fisheries to issue rules prohibiting activities that kill or harm listed corals, prohibiting the import of listed corals, and tackling climate change and local threats. But last year, the federal government deemed these protections unnecessary.

It is estimated that 50% of the world’s coral reefs have already disappeared due to climate change, and about a third of reef-building coral species are threatened with extinction. The United States is the largest importer of corals in the world, but current international restrictions on coral imports offer only minimal protection to species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2014, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed 20 species of coral as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The five Caribbean corals involved are Dendrogyra cylindrus (pillar coral), Annular orbicel (lobed star coral), Orbicella faveolata (mountain star coral), Orbicella franksi (boulder star coral) and Mycetophyllia ferox (rough cactus coral).

Among the 15 Indo-Pacific coral species in today’s advisory letter are Acropora globiceps, Acropora jacquelineae and Acropora lokani.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fisheries Department to promulgate protective regulations necessary for the conservation of endangered species in conjunction with listing. Today’s legal notice advises the Fisheries Department of its failure to issue protective regulations and threatens legal action.

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