By ENews Park Forest
Without help, more than 50 coral species in U.S. waters are likely to go extinct by the end the century, primarily because of ocean warming, disease and ocean acidification, a government report said today. The National Marine Fisheries Service released a status review of 82 corals that are being considered for protections under the Endangered Species Act following a 2009 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Coral reefs are at real risk of vanishing in our lifetimes if we don’t act fast,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of species from extinction, but these corals will only benefit if they’re actually protected.”
Of the 82 corals, 56 are likely to be extinct before 2100, the report said. The corals are in U.S. waters, ranging from Florida and Hawaii to U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific. The report notes that the seven Florida and Caribbean corals are extremely likely to go extinct, and five of those corals ranked in the top seven of most imperiled overall. Today’s report makes no recommendation about whether the corals may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.
According to the status review, “The combined direct and indirect effects of rising temperature, including increased incidence of disease and ocean acidification, both resulting primarily from anthropogenic increases in atmospheric CO2, are likely to represent the greatest risks of extinction to all or most of the candidate coral species over the next century.”
Coral reefs are home to 25 percent of marine life and play a vital function in ocean ecosystems. Already one-third of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed, and scientists warn that by mid-century most corals will be in inhospitable waters that are too warm or acidic. Since the 1990s, coral growth has grown sluggish in some areas due to ocean acidification, and mass bleaching events are increasingly frequent.
“I’m eager to show my kids the wonder of a coral reef. I worry that if we wait too long, they’ll never get to experience a healthy reef teeming with colorful life,” said Sakashita. “These delicate corals need help, first with federal protections, and then with dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide pollution.”
The Fisheries Service is accepting comments on the coral status review and management reports until July 31, 2012. Pursuant to a settlement agreement with the Center, the Fisheries Service will make a determination on whether listing is warranted for the corals by Dec. 1, 2012. In 2006, the Center secured protection for staghorn and elkhorn corals, making them the first — and so far, only — corals listed under the Endangered Species Act.