[Coral-List] 82 Corals Status Review under the US Endangered Species Act

Douglas Fenner douglasfenner at yahoo.com
Sun Jun 24 03:22:11 EDT 2012

I just noticed the last point in this message from Gene, in which he asks why no Millepora were proposed for listing.  I agree with Gene that Millepora are sensitive to bleaching, they at the top of the published lists of sensitivity to bleaching along with Acropora and Pocillopora.  Also I agree that some of them are important reef builders.

    If you skim either the petition or the report you will find that two species of Millepora were indeed petitioned, Millepora foveolata and Millepora tuberosa.  Both are Indo-Pacific species, both are rarely reported and have small ranges.  No Caribbean species was petitioned, probably because most are abundant and widespread in the Western Atlantic and have not shown strong decreases in abundance like the Caribbean Acropora.  However, M. striata is known from only a couple areas (Panama and Belize), and in Belize at least seems to be pretty rare though I certainly have only searched a small area of Belize.  It may be more common in Panama.  Anyhow, the report also considers a species that was not in the petition (probably because it is not known from U.S. waters), Millepora boschmai, a species that was known only from the Pacific coast of Panama.  It was known from only one site there when all known colonies were killed by the high
 temperatures in the 1983 El Nino.  Extensive searches found no remaining living colonies anywhere, and Peter Glynn published a note in Science saying it was now extinct.  Some years later another small group of living colonies was found.  Then those were all killed by the high temperatures in the 1998 El Nino.  Since then no living colonies there or anywhere else on the face of the earth have been found to my knowledge, although there were extensive surveys in Panama.  Subsequently some skeletons were found in a museum in the Netherlands that came from Indonesia, and which taxonomists decided were M. boschmai.  That suggests that it may well not be extinct.  However, I do not know that anyone has found any living colonies.  If someone has, please let me know, I would be very interested.  Local extinctions of corals in the Eastern Pacific are fairly common, I remember a paper documenting that, by Peter Glynn.   In any case, this illustrates
 more vividly than any other coral species I know of that it is possible for a species to be driven to extinction by high temperatures.  The temperature of the top layers of the oceans have been rising for some time and are predicted to continue to for a long time based on the best available science.  Rare corals with very small geographic ranges are particularly susceptible to extinction, and high sea temperatures can do it.  You will note that the report concludes that bleaching is the greatest threat to extinction of coral species in the future.  Acidification and disease were also rated highly threatening.
     References to the M. boschmai events are all listed in the report at the end following the evaluation of M. boschmai which follows the main references.  I note that the risk of extinction of M. boschmai was rated in the report much higher than any other coral.  I think I heard it suggested once that it was possible for NMFS to declare species endangered that were not petitioned.  They also don't have to be found in the U.S. to be listed.  This looks like a prime candidate for listing as endangered, if they decide that it is not in fact already extinct!  Note that to prove a species extinct you essentially have to prove the null hypothesis.  No can do.

Cheers,  Doug

 From: Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov 
Sent: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 3:16 AM
Subject: [Coral-List] 82 Corals Status Review under the US Endangered Species Act
      Dear Listers, It is good to see people involved and thinking 
about the proposed 82 species listing.  Nevertheless, it remains 
difficult to see how listing and an additional tangle of 
unenforceable regulations will prevent extinction especially in areas 
already governed by multiple agencies with overlapping authority. 
Where is the evidence that any of these species will become extinct 
if not listed? Corals have already survived millions of years of 
change and will be here when we are gone.
      I agree with Doug Fenner, that some, most likely all of the 82 
species will be listed as "threated" rather than "endangered." 
However, threatened does not mean there are no consequences. The 
required next step after listing as threatened is to create "Zones of 
Critical Habitat." That step is a difficult highly political chore 
that may have unintended impacts. One should ask, "Who will determine 
the Critical Habitat Zones?" Will it be an agency that can then 
squeeze more money from congress to comply with the act?
      When Acropora was listed as threatened, a secret committee, 
called a recovery team (July 10-11, 2007), drew up the Critical 
Habitat Zones. I say secret but it was really a closed committee. 
They were all biologists.  As a geologist/biologist having published 
on Acropora growth rates, and its distribution on the sea floor and 
subsurface, (including periods of previous demise), for more than 
50-years I naturally thought I would be included in the "team." I was 
not included and was told I could not sit in on the proceedings as an 
observer. The reply from the person in charge was, ". So, 
unfortunately, it seems as though we are not allowed to have 
non-members of the team attend the meetings.  The deal is the 
Recovery Teams are exempt from the Federal Advisory Committee Act so 
they can give the Federal govt advice.  The team members are 
specifically invited by the Assistant Administrator of NMFS. Sorry..."
       That decision seemed a violation of the Florida Sunshine law so 
I threatened to crash the meeting that was being held on a Federal 
facility on Virginia Key. I then received a legalistic letter saying 
the meeting was restricted to selected people.  The exact words were, 
"The Florida State Sunshine Law has no applicability to our action 
since this is a federal team.  I am sorry, but we must maintain 
closed meetings to keep the team FACA exempt." At the time I was a 
recently retired government employee (USGS) of the dept. of Interior 
and was serving on the Mineral Management Service Science Advisory 
Committee. As a Federal function we were required by law to provide 
space for private citizens.  Ironically, I had been working on coral 
reef issues including groundwater, sewage disposal, and water quality 
issues in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Everglades 
National Park.  I had recently published a paper questioning the need 
for listing but while still a government employee I was unable to 
express my views publically. As many of you know government agency 
employees are prohibited from making legal/political comments about 
such matters. Billy Causey, as he correctly noted in his posting, was 
obeying that rule. I agree with everything Billy said and he is 
correct. Water quality in the Florida Keys has improved. I worked on 
that issue for more than 10 years and deepening of sewage disposal 
wells in the Keys was mandated as a result of our findings.
       Now back to the Critical Habitat Issue.  NOAA/Marine Fisheries 
did in fact create critical habitat zones but they included near 
shore areas around the Marquesas where previous research showed the 
species never lived and probably never will. The reason was, and 
remains, tidal influx of green frigid Gulf of Mexico waters. In 
addition, coring at nearby New Ground Shoal and Ellis Rock revealed 
these 25-foot-thick reefs had never included Acropora when they were 
growing. A thermograph planted there showed influx of water during 
the winter is too cold for Acropora growth.  It is nevertheless part 
of the Critical Habitat Zone.
       In addition, Acroporid corals did not build the extensive and 
much thicker Tortugas reefs even though staghorn has historically 
flourished there in the past. Staghorn thickets at Tortugas were 
eliminated by the severe cold-water event in 1977 (Davis 1982).  The 
black water event had previously killed them in 1878.  We never found 
them in our cores that penetrated the entire Holocene reefs. To their 
credit the committee did eliminate the Quicksands, a 20-mile-long 
area of mobile Halimeda underwater sand dunes west of the Marquesas. 
It is a Navy bombing practice range considered necessary for national 
      What will happen when critical habitats, that by law, have to be 
created for the 82 species? Who will do it? If we consider just the 8 
Caribbean species, and their distribution, the results could be 
complex, far reaching, and may have negative economic impacts.  Would 
tour guides and dive charter boat businesses be impacted? What about 
boat and outboard motor manufactures, and dealers? Will mooring buoys 
be removed if combustion engine powered boats and sport divers are 
banned? There would be no need for them. What about sunscreen and 
effects on that industry? NOAA is after all under the dept. of 
commerce. Will aerial mosquito spraying of toxic pesticides be 
banned? Everyone knows it affects marine life in the Keys. The 
pivotal word here is commerce! Remember NOAA is part of the dept. of 
Commerce. Many greens and environmental extremist of course would 
likely be happy with any action that curbs individual freedom and 
free enterprise.  So, be careful what you wish for.  There may be 
unintended consequences
      As a final note I ask, why were Millipora species (common name 
fire coral) not proposed for listing? Those species bleach and die 
along with nearby corals. Millipora's encrusting and bonding action 
helps cement corals together providing greater resistance to 
hurricane waves. Millipora is certainly more vital to coral reef 
integrity and survival than is  Dendrogyra, Dichocoenia, 
Mycetophyllia, and Agaricia. Why were these corals considered 
important enough for listing? Gene

Davis, G. E.,1982, A century of natural change in coral distribution 
at the Dry Tortugas: a comparison of reef maps from 1881 and 1976. 
Bulletin of Marine Science, v. 32, pp. 608-623.


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
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E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
College of Marine Science Room 221A
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
Tel 727 553-1158---------------------------------- 
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