The federal government on Friday proposed protecting 66 kinds of corals under the Endangered Species Act, an acknowledgment that these reef-building animals are suffering so many insults they are threatened with extinction.
The proposal, which covers corals in the Pacific and the Caribbean, lists 19 ways that corals are under assault. They include overfishing, pollution, heatstroke, disease and dissolving in seawater that is turning more acidic.
A team of scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service spent more than three years reviewing the health of these reef-building corals before proposing their protection. Seven of the coral species can be found in U.S. waters off Florida and Caribbean islands. The other 59 are in the Pacific around the Hawaiian Islands, the Northern Marianas Islands, the Line Islands and American Samoa.
“Our science team found that these corals face many, many threats,” said Lance Smith, a supervisory biologist in the fisheries service in Honolulu. “When you put them together, they act in ominous ways.”
The government was prodded into action by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group that sued in federal court and forced a decision that must be completed within a year.
The world’s oceans contain more than 700 species of stony corals, small animals that live in colonies and form elaborate and colorful structures with exoskeletons that resemble everything from the folds of a human brain to the horns of elk or deer.
A third of these reef-building corals are listed as threatened with extinction by the World Conservation Union, an international consortium of scientists.