[Coral-List] Acropora ESA debate - what's the latest?

Iain Macdonald dr_iamacdonald at yahoo.co.uk
Mon Nov 22 04:08:28 EST 2004

Dear Listers,


Given the recent, October 2004, publications in Marine Pollution Bulletin (Sheppard; Precht et al. and Shinn) I thought it was time for people to freely express their opinions on the issue. I would like to raise some addition points, further to those in the aforementioned papers, and ask if there has been any developments in the last few months  regarding the listing of certain Acropora species on the United States Endanger Species Act (hence referred to as ESA). Without posting my original 4 pages of comments I just want to mention these points.


Firstly, doesn’t the IUCN redlist warrant a mention? Should we be pursuing listing of certain coral species there? Would the relevant Acropora species be listed as ‘Data Deficient’, ‘least concern’ or ‘critically endangered’? Would such listing be jumping the gun?


Is the “normal reef status” of huge amounts of living Acropora a real trend? Do populations go through time periods that are more akin to present densities? It appears that there have been previous growth hiatus periods of Acropora within Caribbean locations that are seen as classical reef systems (e.g. Jamaican north coast reef, albeit within a lagoon, Wapnick et al 2004; USVI Rogers et al 2002; Florida Shinn et al 2002). The Acropora die-off events (the boom and bust scenario or more scientifically the r strategy life history trait) may be on a millennium scale, perhaps similar to those already documented in the Arabian Gulf that occurs on a decadal scale. Sources of death may be different but both are affected by climate change, predators, algae competition and diseases. Keeping within this geographical area, I previously posted a rather depressing note regarding the coral communities (note I don’t term them reefs) of Qatar. Those communities I am best acquainted with, some of
 which have been protected from disturbance for many years, are still in a severely depauperate state with no living Acropora but plenty of dead Acropora skeletons, however, I have been told and seen photos of some impressive and large Acropora surrounding an offshore island (60nm) that is by no means “environmental pristine” given that it is an oil terminal. This makes me question the role of direct anthropogenic impacts over the potentially more significant indirect anthropogenic/“natural” impacts.


In the original posting to the list of the Acropora ESA thread (see refs) by Tom Hourigan additional species are listed as having been considered. A feeling I have taken from the later discussions is that the ESA protection can act as an umbrella for other reef related species. If the ESA is to be used to protect reefs and not just the species listed then should we be considering the local reef/framework-building species as candidates? Firstly we need to define what these species are? In a previous email to the list I touched on this topic (http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/pipermail/coral-list/2004-May/000954.html). I would urge caution if this approach is taken. Listing Acropora spp. may not protect all those areas that may be loosely defined as coral reefs. Acropora is not always necessarily present for there to be reef growth. Furthermore Acropora may be present in a non reef-building capacity (e.g. Vargas-Angel et al 2003). So would the strict protection afforded by ESA listing of
 these coral communities be of benefit to the wider public? By this I want to ask would it be in the interest of the “community” to force a construction company, say for a much needed sewer outfall or desalination intake, to navigate around a small clumps of non reef-building Acropora? Other important framework coral species are present in similar non reef-building communities up to North Carolina, would protecting them be prudent?


If the USA does sanction certain Acropora spp on the ESA then bare in mind the knock on effects around the globe. Some countries take a rather blinkered approached to environmental issues and attempt to follow the standard set out by the US. If Acropora was seen globally as an endangered species then affording it such status in the Arabian Gulf would be contrary to the nature population fluctuations. Why is this relevant to the US, because the Acropora species listed for protection also exist in such “marginal environments” where populations have been shown to be dynamic (Shinn et al. 2002).


Perhaps the most successful way to combat the perceived anthropogenic decline in these Acropora species is to conquer the challenges present by the African dust (http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/african_dust/); global warming (i.e., Kyoto Protocol as softly dealt with by Sheppard 2004) and the Florida watershed water quality issues. Surmount these obstacles and coral reefs in general may stand a chance in the Caribbean. 


At the moment I see the ESA as a potent tool in a marine resource managers toolbox, however, it has its flaws and certainly has restrictions that may be counter to the long-term goal of coral reef conservation. Contributors to this discussion will be better placed to discuss whether the existing legislation in the US is currently adequate (e.g. the emails from Walt Jaap and Judith Lang). Surely the US environmental Impact Assessments/Statements are thorough enough to prevent unnecessary environmental impact? 


I hope this email provides food for thought,



Iain Macd.


Refs Cited.


Should Acropora spp. be included on the Endangered Species List? A Coral-List Server Discusion Thread available at http://www.coral.noaa.gov/lists/endangered1.html


Precht et al (2004) The potential listing of Acropora species under the US Endangered Species Act. Marine Pollution Bulletin 49 (7-8): 534-536


Rogers CS et al. (2002) Acropora in the U.S. Virgin Islands: A Wake or an Awakening? A Status Report Prepared for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. In: Proceedings of the Caribbean Acropora workshop: Potential Application of the U.S. Endangered Species Act as a conservation Strategy (Bruckner AW Ed.): 99-122.


Sheppard CRC (2004) The value of legislated conservation? Marine Pollution Bulletin 49 (7-8): 525-526 


Shinn EA (2004) The mixed value of environmental regulations: do acroporid corals deserve endangered species status? Marine Pollution Bulletin 49 (7-8): 531-533


Shinn EA et al. (2002) Staghorn tempestites in the Florida Keys Coral Reefs 22: 91-97.


Vargas-Angel B et al (2003) High-latitude Acropora cervicornis thickets off Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. Coral Reefs 22: 465-473.

Wapnick et al (2004) Millennial-scale dynamics of staghorn coral in Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Ecology Letters 7: 354-361.

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