Protection Sought for 83 Coral Species as Coral Heads for Worldwide Extinction

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 436-9682 x 308, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org

Protection Sought for 83 Coral Species as Coral Heads for Worldwide Extinction

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal petition
seeking to protect 83 imperiled coral species under the Endangered
Species Act. These corals, all of which occur in U.S. waters ranging
from Florida and Hawaii to U.S. territories in the Caribbean and
Pacific, face a growing threat of extinction due to rising ocean
temperatures caused by global warming, and the related threat of ocean
acidification. 

Scientists have warned that coral
reefs are likely to be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to
global warming; all the world’s reefs could be destroyed by 2050.

“Coral
reefs are the world’s most endangered ecosystems and provide an early
warning of impacts to come from our thirst for fossil fuels,” said
Miyoko Sakashita oceans director of the Center for Biological
Diversity. “Within a few decades, global warming and ocean
acidification threaten to completely unravel magnificent coral reefs
that took millions of years to build.”

Corals are
among the species most imperiled by climate change. When corals are
stressed by warm ocean temperatures, they experience bleaching — which
means they expel the colorful algae upon which they rely for energy and
growth. Many corals die or succumb to disease after bleaching. Mass
bleaching events have become much more frequent and severe as ocean
temperatures have risen in recent decades. Scientists predict that most
of the world’s corals will be subjected to mass bleaching events at
deadly frequencies within 20 years on our current emissions path.

Not
only is greenhouse gas pollution causing corals to bleach and die, but
it also makes it difficult for corals to grow and rebuild their
colonies. Ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of
carbon dioxide, is already impairing the ability of corals to build
their protective skeletons. At CO2
levels of 450 ppm, scientists predict that reef erosion will eclipse
the ability of corals to grow.  Moreover, ocean acidification and
global warming render corals even more susceptible to other threats
that have led to the present degraded state of our reefs, including
destructive fishing, agriculture runoff, storms, sea-level rise,
pollution, abrasion, predation, and disease.

Leading coral biologist Charles Veron warned in a recent scientific paper that at current levels of CO2
in the atmosphere (387 ppm) most of the world’s coral reefs are
committed to an irreversible decline. Other scientists have warned that
CO2 concentrations must be reduced to levels below 350 ppm to protect corals and avoid mass extinctions on land and sea. The CO2
reductions proposed in the climate bill now making its way through
Congress are unlikely to result in an atmospheric concentration below
450 ppm, much less 350 ppm.

“The coral conservation
crisis is already so severe that preventing the extinction of coral
reefs and the marine life that depends upon them is an enormous
undertaking. The Endangered Species Act has an important role to play
in that effort,” added Sakashita. “But without rapid CO2 reductions, the fate of the world’s coral reefs will be sealed.”

In
2006, elkhorn and staghorn corals, which occur in Florida and the
Caribbean, became the first, and to date only, coral species protected
under the Endangered Species Act. The listing of staghorn and elkhorn
corals as threatened, which also came in response to a petition from
the Center for Biological Diversity, marked the first time the U.S.
government acknowledged global warming as a primary threat to the
survival of a species. As documented in today’s petition, many other
corals are also at risk.

Protection under the
Endangered Species Act would open the door to greater opportunities for
coral reef conservation, as activities ranging from fishing, dumping,
dredging, and offshore oil development, all of which hurt corals, would
be subject to stricter regulatory scrutiny. Additionally, the
Endangered Species Act would require federal agencies to ensure that
that their actions do not harm the coral species, which could result in
agencies approving projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions
to consider and minimize such impacts on vulnerable coral species.

The
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must respond to the
Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to list 83 species of coral
within 90 days and determine whether listing is warranted for each of
the coral species within one year.

For more information about the Center’s coral conservation campaign, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/coral_conservation/index.html.

Coming this Thursday, many of the petitioned-for corals will also be featured in 350 Reasons We Need to Get to 350 – the Center for Biological Diversity’s photo installation of 350 species we may lose to global warming if we don’t act soon.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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