First Corals to be Listed as Endangered Under the ESA?

Today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed listing three species of coral as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). If the proposed rule stands, Cantharellus noumeae, Siderastrea glynni and Tubastraea floreana will become the first coral species to be listed as such.  At present, there are 22 species of coral listed under the ESA, but all of them are listed as “threatened,” not “endangered.”

In the summer of 2013, WildEarth Guardians petitioned NMFS to list 81 marine species under the ESA, including 23 coral species. In a 90-day finding published on 25 October 2013, NMFS found that the petition did not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the petitioned action was warranted for 20 of the 23 species. The 20 species deemed not warranted by NMFS are:

Acropora roseni
Acropora suharsonoi
Alveopora excelsa
Alveopora minuta
Ctenella chagius
Hydnophora bonsai
Isopora togianensis
Lithophyllon ranjithi
Lobophyllia serratus
Millepora boschmai
Millepora striata
Montipora setosa
Parasimplastrea sheppardi
Pectinia maxima
Pocillopora fungiformis
Porites desilveri
Porites eridani
Porites ornata
Rhizopsammia wellingtoni
Stylophora madagascarensis

For the three species proposed for “endangered” listing today, there will be a 60-day comment period beginning upon publication of the proposed rule tomorrow. After the publication of the proposed rule, NMFS will have one year to publish a final rule unless there is substantial disagreement regarding either the sufficiency or accuracy of the data. In that case, NMFS may take an additional six months.

While a proposed rule represents a comprehensive review of the best available science at the time of consideration, it is not set in stone. Proposed rules can be withdrawn or severely changed before becoming a final rule if additional data or information come to light. For example, in a proposed rule published in December 2012, NMFS proposed to list 66 species of coral under the ESA (12 as endangered and 54 as threatened). After public comment and an extended review period (which included review of newly published data), NMFS published a final rule listing only 20 species. In the final rule published in September 2014, all species were listed as “threatened.” Unlike the 66 species of coral proposed for listing in 2012, Cantharellus noumeae, Siderastrea glynni, and Tubastraea floreana are all believed to have extremely limited ranges, making it far more likely that they will become the first coral species listed as “endangered” under the ESA.

About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
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