A Cry for Corals: Lawsuit Sheds Light on Lapses in Conservation

July 31, 2023
1 min read
Underwater scene of a coral reef with gorgonian coral Eunicella cavolini, Lastovo Islands Nature Park, Croatia; Shutterstock ID 1487080589; Purchase Order: ETX/Relaxnews/Fil; Client/Licensee: Arnaud POURPOINT

The Centre for Biological Diversity has initiated legal action against the National Marine Fisheries Service. The lawsuit is a response to the Service’s alleged failure to provide safeguards for 20 endangered coral species situated in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific regions.

Despite receiving listings under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, these coral species have not been extended the protections promised under the law, including prohibitions on collection and sale.

Emily Jeffers, a lawyer at the Centre, asserted, “Authentic coral protection entails halting aquarium collection and counteracting rising water temperatures, both of which threaten their existence.” Jeffers further argued that, “To prevent extinction, the collection and trade of corals must be unequivocally banned. It is clear that these imperiled species require all the support we can provide. Legal protection for corals should not merely be symbolic.”

In 2020, the Centre submitted a petition demanding that the Fisheries Service ban activities causing harm or leading to the death of listed coral species. This included prohibiting their import and addressing both climate change and local threats. However, the federal government rejected the need for such protective measures in 2021.

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Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fisheries Service is obliged to implement protective regulations vital for conserving threatened species. The Centre’s lawsuit contends that the Service has reneged on these protections for the 20 coral species, thus violating the Act.

Corals worldwide are facing severe decline due to climate change, global warming oceans, and their collection for the international aquarium trade. The majority of coral reefs globally are experiencing damage from marine heatwaves and coral bleaching events. Furthermore, approximately half of the world’s coral reefs have already been destroyed due to climate change.

In 2014, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed 20 species of corals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Five of these Caribbean species – Dendrogyra cylindrus (pillar coral), Orbicella annularis (lobed star coral), Orbicella faveolata (mountainous star coral), Orbicella franksi (boulder star coral), and Mycetophyllia ferox (rough cactus coral) – are named in the lawsuit. The 15 Indo-Pacific coral species include Acropora jacquelineae, Euphyllia paradivisa, and Montipora australiensis.

The United States is the largest global importer of corals for aquariums. Yet, the Service is accused of not monitoring trade in coral species listed as threatened. This lawsuit brings the spotlight back to the urgent need for proactive measures to protect these vital ecosystems.

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