US protects 20 species of colourful coral in Atlantic and Pacific considered "threatened"
Thursday, August 28, 2014, 7:41 PM -
The U.S. government is protecting 20 additional types of colorful coral by putting them on the list of threatened species, partly because of climate change.
"Protecting and conserving biologically diverse coral reefs is essential," says NOAA. "The Endangered Species Act gives us some important tools to conserve and recover those corals most in need of protection."
As with the polar bear, much of the threat to the coral species is because of future expected problems due to global warming, said David Bernhart, an endangered-species official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in an interview with The Associated Press. These coral species are already being hurt by climate change ''but not to the point that they are endangered yet,'' he said.
"Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, providing habitat for many marine species. Protecting and conserving these biologically rich ecosystems is essential, and the Endangered Species Act gives us the tools to conserve and recover those corals most in need of protection,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “The final decision is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA. The amount of scientific information sought, obtained and analyzed was unprecedented.”
Climate change is making the oceans warmer, more acidic and helping with coral diseases like bleaching -- and those "are the major threats'' explaining why the species were put on the threatened list, Bernhart added.
Other threats include overfishing, runoff from the land, and some coastal construction, but those are lesser, Bernhart said.
Five species can be found off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They include pillar coral, rough cactus coral and three species of star coral. The other 15 are in the Pacific Ocean area near Guam and American Samoa, but not Hawaii.
The agency looked at listing 66 species, but Wednesday listed only 20 for various reasons. All are called threatened, not endangered. Two coral species were already listed.
Coral reefs, which are in trouble worldwide, are important fish habitats.
The agency did not create any new rules yet that would prevent coral from being harvested or damaged.
More information about the final rule and rule-making process can be found online.
With files from NOAA and The Associated Press