Seven species of Caribbean coral are recommended for listing on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Two additional species – Elkhorn and Staghorn corals – are suggested for reclassification from threatened to endangered. Threatened means any species likely to become endangered, while endangered means any species in danger of extinction.
The recommendations came after a series of public forums in February in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NOAA has extended the public comment period on the recommendations until April 6.
“In terms of the importance, all of these are hard-bottom species that are the main anchor species for the reefs that protect our islands,” said David Goldstein, chief of interpretation and education for the National Park Service in Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. “Without them, no reef, at least as we know it now.”
Coral reefs in the Caribbean have deteriorated dramatically over the past four decades. According to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature released Sept. 7, total live coral cover from all countries examined declined from 58 percent in 1973 to 8 percent in 2012.
More specifically, while coral reefs in Bonaire, Curacao and the Cayman Islands show the least loss with coral cover of 20 to 28 percent, reefs in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida Keys were the worst with an average of 8 to 10 percent coral cover.
Global warming is the biggest hazard. The report says that more than 97 percent of coral reefs worldwide are expected to incur thermal stress — and the resultant bleaching and mortality — by 2050. Human-induced habitat change is also a threat.
Goldstein offers tips for yachtsmen to prevent coral destruction:
• Stay away from seagrass beds, which are hard-bottom critical habitats, and reefs when anchoring.
• Be certain that line scope is sufficient when anchoring.
• Be aware of changing conditions for both boating and snorkeling when allowing guests/owners on the reef.
• If seas are rough, it is not the time to visit the reef.
• Be prepared for any necessary engine repairs with appropriate clean-up materials, e.g., hazchem kit for oils, etc. The same goes for bilge or septic breach.
• Nearly 90 percent of all boating accidents take place in instances without a lookout. Be certain that the crew is aware of a captain’s decision to navigate and anchor in a reef area where guests/owners intend to visit a reef.
• The vessel captain is ultimately responsible for any damage to ESA-protected species due to passenger actions, intentional or accidental.
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Proposed Caribbean Coral Species
Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis)
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata)
Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus)
Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis)
Mountainous star coral (Montastraea faveolata)
Star coral (Montastraea franksi)
Rough Cactus Coral (Mycetophyllia ferox )
Proposed Threatened Species
Lamarck’s Sheet Coral (Agaricia lamarcki)
Elliptical Star Coral (Dichocoenia stokesii)