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Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
On September 10, 2014, NOAA Fisheries listed 20 new coral species as Threatened under the ESA (See below for more information). Because the ESA Section 9 prohibitions are not automatically applied to species listed as Threatened, we are considering proposing protective regulations under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that are necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of these 20 coral species. As such, on January 13, 2015, we published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) which is intended to alert other agencies and the public as to our planning efforts and request public input that will assist in identifying actions and activities that may impact the status of these corals to provide for the conservation of the species, as well as information on the existence and efficacy of on-going conservation activities. This information will help inform our evaluation of what, if any, protective regulations are necessary and advisable for the conservation of these species. Please see the Federal Register notice linked above for instructions on submitting relevant information; the deadline for submission is March 16, 2015.
Final Listing Rule
NOAA Fisheries published a Final Rule to list 20 species of coral as Threatened under the ESA. Fifteen of those species occur in the Pacific Islands Region and the remaining five occur in the Caribbean. For more information on the listed corals and where they occur click here.
Map of listed corals that occur in each U.S. jurisdictional area
This map shows the number of listed coral species confirmed to occur in each U.S. jurisdictional area (hover over the circled areas to see which corals are occurring in that area); other listed coral species may also occur in these areas but have not yet been reported so these numbers may change as more reliable information becomes available.
Final Rule Supplemental Documents
- Federal Register Notice
- Literature Cited in the Final Rule
- Veron (2014) Report
- U.S. Distributions of the 15 ESA-listed Indo-Pacific Coral Species (pdf 292 kB)
- ESA prohibitions against “take” are not automatically applied to these species listed as threatened because they only automatically apply to species listed as endangered. Therefore, we may identify specific regulations for the conservation of these threatened species under Section 4(d) of the ESA with separate rulemakings in the future.
- We will consult with federal agencies on actions that they carry out, fund, or authorize that “may affect” listed corals to ensure the action does not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species via Section 7 of the ESA.
- We may designate critical habitat if determinable and prudent.
- We may develop recovery plan(s) to identify the criteria that must be met so that the species no longer need the protection of the ESA.
Below you will find more information on the biology of corals and coral reefs, and the history of this management action from receipt of the petition through publishing of the proposed rule and associated documents. Those documents have been updated to reflect the final rule and are available above. For more information on the listed Caribbean species, click here.
Coral Biology and Coral Reefs
Corals are colonial invertebrates that excrete a calcium carbonate skeleton. There are two main types of corals: reef-building (AKA hermatypic) corals, which are only found in tropical regions, and non-reef-building (AKA ahermatypic) corals, which do not produce reefs and are found worldwide. Most reef-building corals contain microscopic symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae which live inside the coral tissue. Like other algae, zooxanthellae need sunlight for photosynthesis, and the photosynthetic pigments give corals much of their color. The zooxanthellae provide food for the coral, and remove some of the corals' waste products. In return, the coral tissue provides a stable, sunny habitat for the zooxanthellae.
Coral reefs provide habitat for thousands of reef fish, invertebrates, and other organisms. Corals reefs form a barrier along coasts and around islands offering shoreline protection from storms. Coral reefs support fishing, scuba diving, boating, and other activities that generate billions of dollars per year worldwide.
Corals are Valuable in Many Ways
Corals are tremendously important to the biodiversity of the world's oceans and they have measurable economic value for communities around the world. Reefs provide home and shelter to over 25% of fish in the ocean and up to two million marine species. The direct economic and social benefits of coral reefs are real and wide ranging.
One independent study reported that coral reefs provide approximate $483 million in annual net benefit to the U.S. economy from tourism and recreation activities and a combined annual net benefit from all goods and services of about $1.1 billion. NOAA also estimates the annual commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs to be more than $100 million; reef-based recreational fisheries generate an additional $100 million annually.
Major Threats to Coral Reefs
Corals are facing severe threats, and it’s highly likely that these threats will increase over time. NOAA identified 19 threats, including: rise in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, disease, ecological effects of fishing, and poor land-use practices. The three major threats identified – rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and disease – are all directly or indirectly linked to greenhouse gas emissions and a changing climate. But, despite the broad global threats to corals, there is evidence that alleviating more local stressors can help improve resiliency for many coral species.
Corals of the U.S. Pacific Islands Region
Corals and coral reefs are found around the islands and atolls of the Pacific Island Region, which consists of the Hawaiian Islands (State of Hawaii), the Marianas Islands (Territory of Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), the eastern portion of the Samoan Islands (Territory of American Samoa), and several islands and atolls in the central Pacific collectively referred to as the Pacific Remote Island Area (PRIA, which includes Wake Island, Johnston Atoll, Palmyra Atoll, Kingman Reef, Jarvis Island, Baker Island, and Howland Island). In the Pacific Islands Region, biodiversity of marine organisms, including corals, is higher in the Mariana Islands, lower in the Hawaiian Islands, and intermediate in American Samoa and PRIA. While marine biodiversity is relatively low in the Hawaiian Islands, many of its marine species are endemic (found nowhere else).
A checklist of coral species in the Marianas Islands (Randall 2003) (April 2003, pdf 303 kB) lists 403 coral species, including both reef-building and non-reef-building species. In American Samoa, a checklist of coral species in the three units (Tutuila, Ta'u, Ofu) of the National Park of American Samoa (DiDonato et al. 2006) (Oct 2007, pdf 396 kB) lists 227 coral species, including both reef-building and non-reef-building species. In the Hawaiian Islands, 59 species of reef-building corals have been documented (Maragos et al. 2004) (Feb 2005, pdf 326 kB), and recent investigations have reported several more species from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Between 48 and 180 coral species have been reported from each of the seven PRIA islands or atolls (Kenyon 2010) (Feb 2010, pdf 61 kB).
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