FW: Acropora spp., endangered

George Garrett garettg at mail.state.fl.us
Sun Feb 28 11:35:01 EST 1999

-----Original Message-----
From:	Garrett-George
Sent:	Friday, February 26, 1999 11:13 PM
To:	'Bob Steneck'
Subject:	RE: Acropora spp., endangered

Bob and Coral-List:

Having had the pleasure of working on both upland and marine management 
issues, I find this debate to be rather interesting.  Though I think that 
there are arguments for listing, I'm not sure how much it accomplishes as 
compared to the regulations currently in place (particularly as defined by 
Walt).  I don't believe that the ESA is particularly strong and I don't 
consider myself to be a "rabid foamy mouth" on the issue.

In Florida and other parts of the United State or its protectorates, 
harvest or coral is not allowed - period.  I think that Walt made a good 
argument for that.  Touching coral or creating relatively minor 
disturbances can be a problem, and though a contributor to coral decline by 
some accounts, is probably not the major one.  Mind you, I don't believe 
that the ESA would bring much to bare on this problem either.  Regardless 
of the law, it is ultimately an on the water enforcement issue, dealt with 
under the prevailing political climate.

First, I have great respect for the ESA and the many refuges that have been 
established to protect ETS.  There are four wildlife refuges in the Florida 
Keys.  However, and Ah ha, a good opportunity for comparative study.  If 
petting Key deer is the comparative equivalent of touching coral, people do 
it on Big Pine Key all the time.  The refuges discourage it, but reasonably 
can't STOP it.  It's that perception of heavy handed enforcement thing.

One more step.  It took a third party federal law suit to get FWS to force 
FEMA to consult with them when issuing flood insurance policies in the Keys 
(or other flood prone areas with ETS).

Taking this a step further, the fact that insurance policies are being 
issued indicates a significant impact on the habitat of an endangered 
species through development of the units requiring insurance.  Pineland and 
hardwood hammock is disappearing daily, though because of local regs, this 
impact is declining significantly (admittedly influenced and assisted by 
the ESA).  But, development is still allowed in developed subdivisions that 
contain little habitat - flat in the middle of the Key Deer Refuge.

It's probably not fair to dump this on FWS, particularly on Big Pine Key - 
the die was cast there before FWS had a Refuge.  Platted lots have existed 
there for a long time and funding for purchase is limited.  However, let's 
look at the concept of an "Incidental Take Permit" (ITP) or an "Habitat 
Conservation Plan" (HCP).  At the time that I worked on the HCP for Key 
Largo (crocodile, woodrat, cotton mouse, indigo snake) there were probably 
4 other HCPs in existence (in a time period spanning the mid 70s to mid 
80s).  That was about 15 years ago.  Since that time I've dealt more in 
marine matters and have lost count, but there are literally hundreds of 
HCPs now.  At least one view of an HCP is that it is a compromise between 
what you want for the ETS and what interested developers want from their 
land.  Frequently, this is a compromise garnered from an inability to 
adequately enforce the ESA, the drives of those who want to develop, and 
the strength of the Constitutional "Takings" law (Takings in this sense 
being property rights and land use).  I think you can make similar 
arguments for ITPs, though perhaps not as strongly because they don't tend 
to affect as broad a part of the range.

I think many of the reasons that the ESA has not been applied more 
effectively in marine environments (marine mammals and reptiles being the 
exception) is that reproductive dispersal is perceived to and in fact 
probably tends to be broad.  Walt alluded to this.  The coral species being 
discussed, particularly the Acroporids, are pan Caribbean (and Pacific, 
etc.)  Thus, the ESA would consider this in the listing process and 
conversely, if listed would not affect these species anywhere but in U.S. 
states and territories.  These are places where they are well protected.

In any event, between the State of Florida (in this case), the various 
Fisheries Acts, and the FKNMS, the Keys are afforded a fair amount of 
protection.  I don't honestly know how much more protection could be 
afforded them.

Having played devils advocate for the last page or so, I certainly don't 
oppose listing the Acroporids.  However, don't expect any panaceas.  Its 
typically the bigger things that are not accounted for in such laws, and 
probably never will be effectively, that impact our reefs - the Mississippi 
or the Orinoco, global warming, Saharan dust (that one's for you Gene), and 
atmospheric deposition.  More locally and more tangibly (for Florida), its 
wastewater outfalls on the east coast, phosphate mining on the west coast 
and general conditions of coastal eutrophication.  We've gotten too big for 
the place in which we live.

We will continue to fight the good fight and do the best we can.  Let's 
list the Acroporids, who knows it may bring greater attention to the things 
that aren't so heavily regulated.

George Garrett
Director of Marine Resources
Monroe County, Florida Keys

PS  Regarding the existing laws and least, Walt (and I) argue from the 
stand point of the laws of Florida, as described above. I do recall some 
recent permits in Hawaii for marina development in which a significant area 
of coral was allowed to be destroyed - though, with significant transplant 
of some as mitigation).  Is there a stronger need for concern nationally, 
in the Pacific or even Puerto Rico (ref. CORALations)?

-----Original Message-----
From:	Bob Steneck [SMTP:Steneck at Maine.Maine.EDU]
Sent:	Friday, February 26, 1999 1:47 PM
To:	Walt Jaap STP; Coral List
Subject:	Re: Acropora spp., endangered

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 noaa.gov
>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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