NOAA's Fisheries Service is increasing its protection of threatened elkhorn and staghorn corals in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands through a new rule to prohibit activities that result in death or harm to either species. The rule will prohibit the import, export, take, and all commercial activities involving elkhorn and staghorn corals, including collection or any activities that result in the corals' mortality or injury, anchoring, grounding a vessel, or dragging any other gear on these corals; damaging their habitat; or discharging any pollutant or contaminant that harms them.
In a related move, the federal agency has designated almost 3,000 square miles of reef area off the coasts of Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands as critical habitat for the threatened corals under the Endangered Species Act.
As important reef-builders in the Florida and Caribbean reef ecosystems, this would appear to be good news as these coral species have declined by as much as 90 percent in many areas. However, the conservation organization responsible for prodding NOAA into taking this action, the Center for Biological Diversity, is threatening to file suit against the government, claiming that the pressing issue of threats from climate change and the acidifcation of the oceans is being ingnored or circumvented - in keeping with the current administration's continuing strategy of denial when it comes to climate changes and the actions needed to be taken to address it. (Read complete press release.)
One step forward . . . one step back.