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National Marine Fisheries Service sued for inadequate care of coral reefs

Department of Land and Natural Resources

The Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit organization, has filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for failure to protect 12 endangered coral species — seven of which are found near Pacific Islands.

The seven Pacific corals are Acropora globiceps, Acropora jacquelineae, Acropora retusa, Acropora speciosa, Euphyllia paradivisa, Isopora crateriformis and Seriatopora aculeate.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the corals that were added to the Endangered Species Act in 2014 never received the federally required protections. Federal law states that organisms added to the endangered species list must receive protection for their critical habitat within a year.

Endangered species with critical habitat protection are twice as likely to recover compared to those without federal conservation efforts, according to the center.

Officials say that critical habitat designation could improve water quality throughout the coastal zone, limit over-fishing, protect spawning grounds and reduce harm from development and dredging. The protections would not close off areas for people to swim and fish.

"Those deadlines are in place to give the species the protection that they need in order to survive and to recover," said Emily Jeffers, the Center for Biological Diversity's attorney.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, about half of coral reefs worldwide have already been lost to climate change. Increased ocean temperature and ocean acidification cause coral to bleach, and eventually die. A third of the remaining reef-building coral species are at risk for extinction.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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