Acropora spp., endangered

Walt Jaap STP JAAP_W at
Fri Feb 26 05:07:06 EST 1999

[Moderator's note: this letter to Tom Hourigan from Walt Jaap was
reprinted with permission from Walt for the purpose of encouraging
discussion and contrasting or complementary viewpoints.]

22 February, 1999

Dr. Thomas F. Hourigan
Marine Biodiversity Coordinator
Office of Protected Resources, NOAAF/PR
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
tom.hourigan at

Dear Dr. Hourigan:

I am responding to your internet request about Acropora spp. and other
Scleractinian species for inclusion as endangered or threatened species.
We have encountered this option several times from different groups over
the years; and have looked at the option to see if it was reasonable,
possible, and would it do a better job protecting corals than the
existing statutes and management regimes.  We have concluded that it is
not the best approach for several reasons.

Firstly, to prove that a coral is threatened or at risk throughout the
Caribbean, Florida, Bahamas, Bermuda, and places in between is  costly,
time consuming, and might be very difficult to prove the case.

Are corals currently protected from human exploitation by other statutes
and management regimes?  I would like to think so.  In Florida, we have
a state statute that protects all Scleractinia, Millepora spp, and
Gorgonia spp from harvest, being sold in a commercial establishment, and
from destruction on the sea floor.  This statute has been in effect
since the mid 1970s.  At the federal level the most extensive coral
protection is found under the Magnuson Act:  The Gulf of Mexico and
South Atlantic Fisherie s Councils cosponsored the work that resulted in
the Coral and Coral Reef Fishery Management Plan.  This plan parallels
the Florida statute, protecting the Scleractinia, Millepora spp, and
Gorgonia spp. This management regime was recently incorporated into the
Essential Fish Habitat Plan by the Fishery Management Councils.

The Department of Interior manages two National Parks (Biscayne and Dry
Tortugas) in which all corals are protected.  The State of Florida and
NOAA are the trustees of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
which includes all the reefs outside the National Park boundaries from
Fowey Rocks to west of Dry Tortugas, again the regulations protect
corals and reefs.   When anthropogenic events occur, the trustees have
successfully prosecuted responsible parties or have negotiated effective
restoration and mon itoring plans on the sites.  Settlements were in the
range of millions of dollars. Would the endangered species act have
provided immunity from these anthropogenic disturbances? I do not think
it would have.

Natural events such as hurricanes, ENSO related bleaching episodes, and
global warming are still occurring in spite of the efforts that the
coral protection statutes and management regimes.  Would additional
protective legislation such as the endangered species program provide
more protection to the reef resources?  I am skeptical that adding a few
Scleractinia corals to the endangered and threatened species list would
be of benefit.

Coral populations are very dynamic.  In the case of Acropora palmata
(Lamarck, 1816) there is good evidence that it has gone through boom and
bust dynamics for quite some time.  In 1882, Alexander Agassiz reported
44 hectares of A. palmata at Dry Tortugas.  In 1982, Gary Davis reported
that, A. palmata coverage declined to 0.6 hectares, ten years later we
measured the remnant population and noted little change.  The decline
was probably caused by hurricanes and other meteorological phenomena.

In retrospect, or as they claim hind sight is perfect, when the debate
over the Everglades Park boundaries was first debated in the late 1940s,
Gill Voss told me an initial proposal had all of the Florida Keys with
the exception of Key West and Marathon included in Everglades National
Park.  Local politics prevailed and the end result is a highly urbanized
Florida Keys in which the environmental quality has suffered from user
abuse.  Ah, if we could only go back in time and make it right.

We recognize that your intentions are well meaning and appreciate your
concern.  We respectfully disagree that the corals mentioned in your
communication should be considered for nomination as endangered or
threatened species.  We do not believe that any of the aforementioned
taxa of corals could satisfy the criteria of endangered or threatened
species.   Since we have existing statutes and management regimes that
are designed to protect corals and reefs, the proposed status would have
little or no effect o n these resources.


Walter C. Jaap Associate Research Scientist Florida Marine Research

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