Thursday, January 21, 2010

US must respond to coral concerns

Suit Will Be Filed to Protect 83 Corals Threatened by Global Warming, Ocean Acidification

The Center for Biological Diversity has formally notified the National Marine Fisheries Service of its intent to sue the agency for its failure to respond to a petition seeking to protect 83 imperiled coral species under the Endangered Species Act. These corals, all of which occur in U.S. waters ranging from Florida and Hawaii to U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific, face a growing threat of extinction due to rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming, and the related threat of ocean acidification. The Endangered Species Act requires that the National Marine Fisheries Service respond to the petition within 90 days, and this initial finding is delinquent.

“Within a few decades, global warming and ocean acidification threaten to completely destroy magnificent coral reefs that took millions of years to build,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Timing is of the essence to reverse the tragic decline of these vitally important reefs, and we can’t afford any delays in protecting corals under the Endangered Species Act.”

Among the group's list of 83 species is the mountainous star coral, once considered the dominant reef building coral in the Atlantic, and the ivory tree coral, a branching coral found in the Caribbean whose delicate limbs provide shelter for numerous reef fish.

Sakashita said protection under the Endangered Species Act would create new conservation opportunities and provide for greater scrutiny of fishing, dredging and offshore oil development.

Reef-building coral is a fragile organism, a tiny polyp-like animal that builds a calcium-carbonate shell around itself and survives in a symbiotic relationship with types of algae — each providing sustenance to the other. Even a 1 degree Celsius (1.7 degree Fahrenheit) rise in normal maximum sea temperatures can disrupt that relationship.

Unusually warm waters in recent years has caused the animals that make up coral to expel the colorful algae they live with, creating a bleached color. If the problem persists, the coral itself dies — killing the environment where many fish and other marine organisms live.

Corals around the world are being stressed by rising sea temperatures. Carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels is absorbed by the oceans, making the waters more acidic and corrosive on corals. Land-based pollution, such as sewage, beach erosion, coastal development and overfishing also are to blame, experts say.

Also Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a new review for two rare U.S. Virgin Island plants, the agave eggersiana and solanum conocarpum, in response to a Center for Biological Diversity complaint challenging the agency's 2006 decision not to give them federal protection.

Scientists have warned that coral reefs are likely to be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to global warming; all world’s reefs could be ruined by 2050. When corals are stressed by warm ocean temperatures, they are vulnerable to bleaching and death. Mass bleaching events have become much more frequent and severe as ocean temperatures have risen in recent decades. Scientists predict that most of the world’s corals will be subjected to mass bleaching events at deadly frequencies within 20 years on our current emissions path.

For more information about the Center’s coral conservation campaign, visit:

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.