Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Department of Commerce
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The content on this web page was last updated in December of 2012. For more information:

Update - 2012

November 30, 2012: NOAA Fisheries is proposing Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings for 66 coral species: 59 in the Pacific and seven in the Caribbean.

  • In the Pacific, seven species would be listed as endangered and 52 as threatened.
  • In the Caribbean, five would be listed as endangered and two as threatened.
  • In addition, NOAA Fisheries is proposing that two Caribbean species—elkhorn and staghorn corals—already listed under the ESA be reclassified from threatened to endangered.

In 2009, NOAA received a petition to list 83 species of reef-building corals under the ESA from the Center for Biological Diversity. On February 10, 2010, NOAA found that the Center presented substantial information indicating that listing under the ESA may be warranted for 82 of the 83 petitioned species.

Following the initial finding, NOAA convened a Biological Review Team to initiate a formal status review of the 82 species. The result was a Status Review Report, released in April 2012. The peer-reviewed report incorporated and summarized the best available scientific and commercial data to date.

The agency also conducted a public engagement process between April and July 2012 to gather additional scientific information, allow time for a public review of the Status Review and Draft Management Reports, and to further engage the public. All relevant information gathered was summarized in a new Supplemental Information Report

Together, the Status Review, Supplemental Information, and Final Management reports form the basis for the proposed listing.

Update - 2004

On March 4, 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to list elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (Acropora cervicornis ) corals under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After further review, NOAA/NMFS determined that these two species of Acropora warranted listing under the ESA. In May 2006, the United States listed Acropora palmata and Acropora cervicornis as vulnerable under the Endangered Species Act due to their widespread decline throughout their Caribbean range.

Should Acropora spp. Be Included on the Endangered Species List?

Elkhorn coral
Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) is a branching coral. Branching corals grow in the shallow areas of the reef crest and serve to break up the wave action as it comes onto the reef. The branches of elkhorn coral resemble an elk's rack of antlers, thus its name.

On Jan. 15, 1999, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) requested comment on the possible listing of elkhorn and staghorn corals as candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS was considering listing the corals because their populations have been greatly reduced throughout the Caribbean range. Populations declined during the 1980s by up to 96 percent, according to the Federal Register notice. NMFS requested information that would either support or argue against inclusion of these coral species on the candidate list.

Coral-list participants, which generally were equally divided on the issue, discussed the pros and cons of possible ESA protection for the corals, as well as the legal nuances of the act.

The final participant summed up the lengthy discussion by examining the nature of the debate and the conflict between "reductionist" research and "holistic" research.

Click here for a list of discussion participants.

Click here to download the complete unedited discussion (pdf, 127Kb).


Additional References

Shinn, Eugene. (2004). The mixed value of environmental regulations: do acroporid corals deserve endangered species status? Marine Pollution Bulletin. 49(7-8) pp. 531-533, doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2004.07.007

Bruckner, A.W. , 2002. Proceedings of the Caribbean Acropora Workshop: Potential Application of
the U.S. Endangered Species Act as a Conservation Strategy. NOAA Technical Memorandum
NMFS-OPR-24, Silver Spring, MD 199 pp.