The National Marine Fisheries Service has released a recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn corals (which are mainly located near Florida and in the Caribbean) -- a last-ditch effort to save these species, which have declined by 97 percent in over the last few decades. The Fisheries Service has protected these corals under the Endangered Species Act, but their prevalence in the ocean continues to diminish due to, among other factors, increased climate change.
Coal reefs help enhance marine diversity, protect the shoreline, and support fisheries. But unless the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are greatly reduced, the "rainforest of the ocean floor" will soon be a thing of the past. Rising ocean temperatures and acidification resulting from global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to impede elkhorn and staghorn recovery. Particular coral species are vanishing due to bleaching from increasing ocean temperatures, disease, fishing, pollution, and ocean acidification.
The new Fisheries Service plan calls for lowering carbon emissions, which will in turn reduce ocean acidification, and lower ocean temperatures.
"The clock is ticking to save these beautiful corals so I'm happy to see there's finally a concrete plan to move them toward recovery," said Shaye Wolf, the Center's climate science director. "The plan rightly recognizes that we'll need to manage local threats like near-shore pollution, but also address complex global threats like climate change."
"Recovery plans work, but only if they're followed," Wolf said. "If we're going to save these disappearing corals, and indeed the scores of other marine animals hit hard by warming waters and acidifying oceans, we need to press forward now with significant measures to reduce carbon pollution."
Just last year the government added 20 additional coral species to the Endangered Species Act, protecting varieties of corals that once thrived in Florida, the Caribbean and the Pacific. "This decision is a big step forward for corals," Miyoko Sakashita, the Center's oceans director, said after the decision. "The world's coral reefs are in crisis from global warming and acidifying oceans, and it's great news that 20 coral species will get the safety net of Endangered Species Act to help them survive these threats."
"It's a bittersweet victory to declare these animals endangered," Sakashita said. "This is a wake-up call that our amazing coral reefs are dying and need federal protection, but there's hope for saving corals and many other ocean animals if we make rapid cuts in greenhouse gas pollution to stop global warming and ocean acidification."
For more information about the corals, please visit the Center for Biological Diversity's website.