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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 11, 2010

NOAA reviewing threats to coral

Advertiser Staff

NOAA Fisheries is evaluating whether nine species of stony coral in Hawai'i and dozens more in Pacific and Caribbean waters warrant protection from ocean warming and acidification, coastal development, reef fishing, invasive species and other threats.

The agency announced in yesterday's Federal Register that it is taking the action in response to evidence presented in a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity seeking status for the corals under the Endangered Species Act and designation of critical habitat.

The petition asserts the corals have suffered population reductions of at least 30 percent over a 30-year period. The petition notes that all 82 of the species under consideration already are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered by the World Conservation Union; two are on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries' list of species of concern.

They include nine from five coral families in Hawai'i: Acroporidae, Agariciidae, Poritidae, Faviidae and Siderastreidae.

The Center for Biological Diversity said in addition to reef fishing, disease, marine debris and runoff, ocean reefs are facing the large-scale threats of elevated sea-surface temperatures and ocean acidification, which can cause coral populations to collapse and make it difficult for them to recover.

"The status review is an important step forward in protecting coral reefs, which scientists have warned may be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to global warming," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Endangered Species Act protection can provide a safety net for corals on the brink of extinction."

As part of the status review, NOAA Fisheries is seeking scientific and commercial information on the species, with comments due April 12.