Acropora spp., endangered

Bob Steneck Steneck at
Fri Feb 26 13:46:37 EST 1999

Dear Walt and others,

  Isn't the ultimate result of your argument  that management cannot do 
much for coral decline, so why bother?  Or perhaps everything that needs 
to be done is being done in Florida so let's be patient.  However, the 
idea that we just don't know enough will always be used in all management 
issues.  If we cannot make a good case for an Acropora decline throughout 
the Caribbean, can we ever hope to make a case to managers or legislators 
that will work for other issues?

  I hope you see that I'm not directly disagreeing with anything you have 
said.  However working with existing legislation... especially 
legislation that has some real 'teeth' as is the case for  Endangered 
Species Act, makes sense to me.  It seems to me that endangered species 
may become the 'poster-child' for an educational campaign and I see value 
in that.  Protection of endangered species translates to protection of 
associated species and the entire local system.  For example, the spotted 
owl has saved lots of old growth forests.  There are many other examples.

  Finally, is there harm in embracing the concept of Acropora meeting the 
definition of an endangered or threatened species?  As far as I can see, 
only if the science doesn't support it.  As you know, there are volumes 
of studies both qualitative and quantitative that document the Acropora 
decline.  There is a sizable literature arguing for the geological and 
ecological importance of that genus.  Even if there is evidence that this 
genus has fluctuated in the past (I'm not sure yours is a good example... 
it suggests the Acropora decline may have begun earlier than we thought), 
I don't think that should disqualify it from being considered for E & T 
classification.  I also do not think the long-term prognosis for the 
species has to be good for inclusion to the list.  I believe everyone 
expected the California Condor would go extinct but it was placed on the 
list anyway.  I think that species has surprised some pundits.

  Walt - I hope I'm not missing some of your key points as to why there 
is no value in placing acroporids on the endangered list.  If I am - 
please educate me and everyone else.  If the scientific community sees 
general value, there is a slim chance this could happen.  At best, this 
is a long-shot that might help protect some reefs.


  Bob Steneck

>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

Robert S. Steneck, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Marine Sciences
University of Maine
Darling Marine Center
Walpole, ME 04573
207 - 563 - 3146 ext. 233
e-mail: Steneck at Maine.EDU

The School of Marine Sciences Web site:

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