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

Christopher Hawkins chwkins at yahoo.com
Thu May 31 20:21:50 EDT 2012

Hello Gene (and all):

I share some of the frustrations. With regard to your question:

"And  finally, why is National Marine Fisheries involved with coral protection, especially within NOAA Marine Sanctuaries where all corals are already protected?"

The petition to list the 82 coral coral species was brought via the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The legislation directs that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are the two entities tasked with evaluating a species-listing petition and recommending action/no action. NMFS handles almost all marine species petitions (there are a few exceptions).  


--- On Wed, 5/30/12, Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu> wrote:

From: Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
Subject: [Coral-List] 82 Corals Status Review under the US Endangered Species Act
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 11:07 AM

Well here we go again! The Center for Biodiversity has masterminded 
yet another misuse of the Endangered Species Act by suing 
NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service to list 82 species of corals. 
It wouldn't be an unwarranted move if there were scientific certainty 
about what is causing their demise. Common sense says, "If you don't 
know what's killing something, then what do you protect it from?" 
That was the case back when CBD forced endangered status on Acropora 
species several years ago. Did listing of Acropora stop the demise of 
that genus in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary where all 
coral species are protected? The answer is no. Ironically, even then 
there were areas in the Caribbean where the genus flourished, and 
there are still areas where it flourishes. Curiously, A. cervicornis 
is growing magnificently suspended in the water column on lines in 
Ken Nedimyer's coral nursery within FKNMS. They and other acroporids 
just do not grow well on coral reefs where they flourished until the 
late 1970s. There is also good evidence now that the white-band 
disease that wiped out Acropora is caused by a bacterial infection. 
Unfortunately listing did not get rid of the mystery microbe. Quite 
likely it is disease-resistant genotypes that have remained resistant 
to the disease. That would explain why geological research indicates 
there have been two major extinctions of A. cervicornis and rebirths 
in the FKNMS during the past 6,000 years (Shinn et al. 2003; Shinn 
2004). Acropora growth rate, if unchecked, would have allowed it to 
grow as much as 600 ft. vertically during the period that Florida 
reefs have existed.
      So now it is 82 coral species the CBD is using to advance their 
cause, eight of which are Caribbean species. Since I have conducted 
geological and growth-rate research in the Caribbean, it is best that 
I restrict my comments to those species. First, I think we can all 
agree that dredging or ship groundings can smother any of the species 
of concern. Such incidents are of limited extent, and they are 
preventable and can be controlled. Unfortunately, listing them as 
threatened or endangered cannot abate the widespread death of 
Caribbean coral species due to disease. Listing is therefore a 
totally useless act that likely may have unintended or sinister 
preplanned consequences. 
     Black-band disease has devastated the Montastraea group of 
corals, yet we do not know the causes both in Florida and around 
sparsely populated islands of the Caribbean. Listing certainly will 
not bring those species back to full health. The same can be said 
about Dendrogyra cylindrus that is distributed throughout the 
Caribbean but never in great abundance. Colonies of that coral still 
grow in the FKNMS where all corals are protected. That species never 
was abundant in the 50+ years the author has been diving there (Shinn 
2011). Dichocoenia stokesii is a minor component on reefs that 
automatically dies when it reaches the size of a soccer ball. Many 
died from what was called white plague (a form of bleaching that 
started at the base of the coral) in the 1980s. One can still find 
healthy Dichocoenia, and there is little disease today. Furthermore, 
it is not a significant reef builder. I have no idea why Agaricia 
lamarcki or Mycetophyllia ferox are included on the list. They 
certainly are not keystone reef builders, and I am certain they are 
not threatened throughout their range. As I remember from the first 
attempt to list D. cylindrus back in the 1970s, a species must be 
threatened throughout its range to qualify for E.S.A listing. One has 
to wonder about the benefit of listing these corals since it simply 
creates more rules and regulations, not to mention paper, time, and 
effort, and be ineffective at saving these species. We can all 
remember the Caribbean-wide demise of the urchin Diadema antillarum 
in the early 1980s some 30 years ago. Diadema remains rare and 
nowhere near its former abundance. Had that pivotal coral reef 
organism been listed in the 1980s, would it have been brought back to 
pre die-off levels? Of course not! Acropora cervicornis died off at 
roughly the same time as Diadema. If A. cervicornis had been listed 
back in the 1980s, would it be flourishing today? One has to wonder 
what the coral reef and the CBD benefits from listing of these corals?
      I suspect what is behind the proposed listing is coral bleaching 
that may be caused by a warming ocean that the IPCC and Al Gore say 
is caused by increasing levels of CO2 that have been rising and 
currently approaching 0.004 percent of the atmosphere. That is a 
worldwide highly contentious political issue that will not be 
resolved soon. Is that why the CBD wants these corals listed? Or is 
it the threat of alkalinity shift, a.k.a. ocean acidification? All 
thinking people know that CO2 will stay in the atmosphere and oceans 
for many years if anthropogenic sources ceased tomorrow. The lawyers 
at CBD surely are aware of that. Maybe their action is a way to 
squeeze tax-exempted funding from gullible and frightened citizens? 
What is their motive or motives? Why is CBD doing this? Is there some 
collusion between CBD/lawyers and the government agencies that will 
squeeze more money from Congress to administer the extra burden of 
enforcement? I do know that whether they win or lose their lawsuit 
against NOAA, our taxes pay their legal fees. Now that's a pretty 
cynical motive but as they say, "follow the money." And finally, why 
is National Marine Fisheries involved with coral protection, 
especially within NOAA Marine Sanctuaries where all corals are 
already protected? If there is government waste and overlap, then 
this may be a poster-boy example. Gene

Shinn, E.A., Reich, C.D., Hickey, T.D., and Lidz, B.H., 2003, 
Staghorn tempestites in the Florida Keys: Coral Reefs, v. 22, p. 

Shinn, E.A., 2004, The mixed value of environmental regulations: Do 
acroporid corals deserve endangered species status? Marine Pollution 
Bulletin, v. 49, p. 531-533.

Shinn, E.A., 2011, Are we loving 'em to death? Marine Pollution 
Bulletin, v. 62, p. 2581-2583.


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
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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