Florida's coral reefs have been on the decline for decades, and it looks like things could get a whole lot worse.
Seven species of coral found in Florida and Caribbean waters "are extremely likely
to go extinct" before the year 2100, and five of those species are the most "imperiled overall," according to a new report from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
A total of 56 species of coral in U.S. waters, including Pacific and Caribbean territories, are likely to be extinct by the end of century. The main threats include disease, warmer ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification.
"Coral reefs are at a real risk of vanishing in our lifetimes if we don't act fast," said Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity in a news release. "The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of species from extinction, but these corals will only benefit if they're actually protected."
Corals found off the coast of Florida are protected species, yet only two species -- Acropora cervicornis, more commonly known as staghorn coral, and Acropora palmata, more commonly known as elkhorn coral -- are currently included on the Endangered Species List. If the other species are included, they'll be afforded the same protection as a bald eagle or an African elephant.
Florida's reefs are thought to generate more than $4 billion a year in revenue. Globally, reefs generate about $375 billion a year, according to a 2011 report from the World Resources Institute.
While coral reefs cover less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the Earth's surface area, a quarter of all marine life exists within these fragile ecosystems. Losing them would be a major blow to fishing and tourism industries around the world.
The National Marine Fisheries Service report didn't include a recommendation on whether the studied species should be added to the Endangered Species Act, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The agency is accepting comments on its reports through July 31. Click here
to learn more about how to submit a comment.
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