[Coral-List] Lawsuit Aims to Protect Endangered Caribbean Corals from Overfishing

Andrew Baker abaker at rsmas.miami.edu
Tue Jan 31 14:28:10 EST 2012

This may be of interest to the coral-list community - Andrew Baker,
University of Miami

For Immediate Release: January 30, 2012

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Endangered Caribbean Corals from Overfishing 

Elkhorn and staghorn corals need parrotfish to survive


Andrea Treece, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2089 <tel:%28415%29%20217-2089>  

Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5308


Washington, D.C. - A lawsuit
mplaint-1302012>  was filed today in federal district court seeking greater
protections from fishing for threatened coral reefs in the Caribbean. The
lawsuit asserts that the National Marine Fisheries Service ignored science
showing that parrotfish and other grazing fish play a key role in promoting
the health of coral reefs; the government's authorization of targeted
fishing for parrotfish poses a risk to elkhorn and staghorn corals,
protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"The Caribbean's coral reefs are already in deep trouble, and reducing the
parrotfish that help them stay healthy only makes matters worse," said
Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
"If we don't take steps now to safeguard the creatures that keep these vital
reefs alive, we risk losing all of it."

According to the lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the
Endangered Species Act by finding that the targeted fishing for parrotfish
would not jeopardize already imperiled corals or "adversely modify," (i.e.
damage) their critical habitat.

Excessive algal growth threatens the health of Caribbean reefs, choking out
corals and degrading the habitat that other reef creatures-such as fish, sea
turtles and lobsters-depend on. Fish, especially parrotfish, which graze on
algae around coral reefs, play a key function in providing suitable habitat
for corals to settle and build those reefs. Fish populations in the
Caribbean have been overfished, including the parrotfish that are the
subject of this lawsuit; managing the overfishing of parrotfish will help
corals recover and become more resilient to other threats, including global
warming and ocean acidification.

"Restoring healthy populations of elkhorn and staghorn coral is critical to
restoring the health of Caribbean reefs as a whole," said Andrea Treece, an
attorney with Earthjustice. "These corals provide shelter, nursery grounds,
and hunting grounds for an incredible array of fish, lobsters, sea turtles
and other species. Without better protection, we risk losing the entire reef

"Corals are competing with algae, and without a robust population of
parrotfish, the algae are going to win," said Sakashita. "But wise
management of our reefs can keep algae in check and promote both healthy
corals and healthy fish."

Elkhorn and staghorn corals were once the dominant reef-building corals in
the Caribbean but they are perilously close to extinction. Corals suffer
from a variety of threats, including pollution, global warming and ocean
acidification. A key threat to corals, however, continues to be overfishing
and competition with algae. The corals have declined by more than 90 percent
since the 1970s. In 2006, the two corals were protected under the Endangered
Species Act in response to a petition by the Center for Biological

Learn more:

*	Parrotfish to aid reef repair
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7069933.stm> - BBC (video)
*	Read the complaint.

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