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International Waters: Proposed Coral Listings Could Result in U.S. Bans

Posted: March 13, 2013, 5:45 p.m. EST


By John Dawes

If proposals currently being debated eventually are approved, numerous hard coral species—including some which are popular with marine aquarists—could end up classified as threatened or endangered by U.S. authorities. If so, U.S. trade would be banned in some cases and severely restricted in others.

The story began in October 2009 when the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) for 83 species of hard corals to be listed as either threatened or endangered. On Feb. 10, 2010, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published a positive finding that 82 of the 83 species warranted consideration.

Thus, it initiated a formal review of the 82 species, at the same time soliciting public input on six “categories of information.” These consisted of factors—such as climate, status of habitats, dredging, coastal developments, the aquarium trade and pollution—deemed to affect the species concerned.

Elkhorn coral
The status of elkhorn coral (this specimen has been damaged, most probably by feeding parrotfish) would be raised from threatened to endangered. Photo by John Dawes
Following a 90-day consultation period, a Coral Biological Review Team was convened to consider the data and compile a Status Review Report. After a lengthy investigation, a notice was published in the Federal Register on April 12, 2012, announcing the availability of the SRR, plus an accompanying draft management report.

Following the announcement, more than 42,000 letters and emails were submitted by the deadline date of July 31, 2012. Some “400 relevant scientific articles, reports or presentations” also were provided or identified, the report stated. In November 2012, the final management report was published.

These details illustrate the thoroughness and duration of the exercise that finally resulted in the publication of the latest document in the Federal Register on Dec. 7. (See Footnotes for access details.) As required by law, this document was the subject of a 90-day consultation period, with comments required by March 7.

If the proposal eventually is approved as it currently stands, 52 species of Indo-Pacific corals will be listed as threatened, with seven others listed as endangered. Two species of Caribbean corals also will be listed as threatened and five as endangered. The remaining 16 species do not warrant listing of any kind. However, two species already listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act—elkhorn and staghorn corals (Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis)—would be re-classified as endangered.

An endangered species is defined as “any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A threatened species is “any species which is likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

The significance of such listings for the coral trade would be considerable. For example, the report stated that if a species is listed as endangered, there are “prohibitions against importing, exporting, engaging in foreign or interstate commerce, or ‘taking' of the species.”

The term “take” is defined in the report as “to harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or attempt to engage in such conduct.” The prohibitions extend to “all persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.”

If a species is listed as threatened, the imposed restrictions vary, depending on the perceived conservation needs of the species. But they could be as stringent as those imposed on endangered species.

It will be some time before we know the final outcome of this long investigative exercise. If no amendments are made, however, the following species effectively will be banned from U.S. trade:

Caribbean Species
• Staghorn coral (Acropora
cervicornis)
• Elkhorn coral (A. palmata)
• Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus)
• Boulder star coral (Montastrea annularis)
• Mountainous star coral (M. faveolata)
• Star coral (M. franksi)
• Rough cactus coral (Mycetophyllia ferox)

Indo-Pacific Species
• Fire coral (Millepora foveolata)
• Elegans coral (Pocillopora elegans)
• Staghorn or table corals (Acropora jacquelinae, A. lokani, A. rudis)
• False flower coral (Anacropora spinosa)
• Frogspawn coral (Euphyllia paradivisa)

FOOTNOTES
1. Access the full document published in the Federal Register, Vol. 77, No. 236 (Dec. 7, 2012) at www .gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-12
2. All hard coral species currently are listed under CITES Appendix II, which results in strict trade controls, some of which might be similar to, or the same as, those that would be applied to the species that might end up listed as threatened if the NOAA proposals are implemented. CITES controls do not, however, include total trade prohibitions on Appendix II species.



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