Eighty Two Species of Coral listed in a Petition for Endangerement under the Endangered Species Act

By February 11, 2010 February 24th, 2013 Oceans

This is a very significant petition, more of which will likely follow in the unexpectedly near future. It is this kind of species reduction and species extinction risk that will only accelerate in the future as our planet continues to warm even faster than it has been warming recently. Species across the globe will find themselves trying to survive in hostile environments. It will be very difficult for most species, that evolved in a stable environments over thousands of years, to adapt to habitats that have changed far beyond the individual species evolutionary niche.

The February 10 Federal Register published a petition for this extensive listing citing the number one reason as warming oceans due to climate change. The petition states that all of the petitioned species have suffered losses of 30% or more over a 30-year period placing them at high risk of extinction according to the  IUCN guidelines (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).  The petition continues "…the region suffered massive losses of corals in response to climate-related events of 2005, including a record-breaking series of 26 tropical storms and elevated ocean water temperatures". The petition goes on "…the U.S. Virgin Islands lost 51.5 percent of live coral cover, and that Florida, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands, St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelemy, Barbados, Jamaica, and Cuba suffered bleaching of over 50 percent of coral colonies, citing Carpenter et al. (2008). The petitioner cites Gardner et al. (2003) in asserting that, over the three decades prior to the 2005 events, Caribbean reefs had already suffered an 80 percent decline in hard coral cover, from an average of 50 percent to an average of 10 percent throughout the region."

The most alarming statement in the petition follows: "… these corals face significant threats. To support this assertion, the petitioner cites Alvarez-Filip et al. (2009) in noting the dramatic decline of the three dimensional complexity of Caribbean reefs over the past 40 years, resulting in a phase shift from a coral-dominated ecosystem to fleshy macroalgal overgrowth in reef systems across the Caribbean."  This "fleshy macroalgal overgrowth" – what this means is that most of the corals have died and have been replaced by a green or brown slime of algae.

Federal Register Link