Twenty new species of coral have been added to the endangered species list, up from just two different species previously, but their designation as Threatened instead of Endangered means that the ruling will have a fairly limited impact for now. The ruling recognizes that a broad range of human activity is hurting coral reefs and that stronger action may need to be taken in the future to protect them.

Coral Species

“Most of these species, particularly in the Caribbean, have started to experience some impacts from bleaching and elevated temperatures and disease,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) biologist David Bernhart, reports Jane J. Lee for National Geographic.

NOAA decision increased number of threatened Coral species ten-fold

Not only did the NOAA decision increase the number of coral species on the endangered list ten-fold, this was the biggest Endangered Species Act (ESA) to date, and this was pared down from a list of 83 coral species that had been originally proposed following a period of review and public commentary. Warmer oceans, more acidity (largely from fertilizer run-off), and pollution have all damaged coral reefs in recent years. Sometimes the effect is enough to kill coral reefs outright, and sometimes it starts a process called coral bleaching where the reef responds to environmental stress by driving out the symbiotic algae that give the reef its color out, ironically making it even more vulnerable.

The twenty species of coral, joining elkhorn and staghorn coral found in the Caribbean, include pillow corrals, star corrals, and rough cactus corrals, scattered from US waters around Guam and American Samoa to the Caribbean.

Threatened designation doesn’t interfere with fishing or tourism

Since the coral species have been listed as Threatened instead of Endangered, recognizing that they aren’t in danger of actually going extinct, the ESA doesn’t affect commerce or tourism, and it doesn’t create any new no-take zones where extraction (eg fishing) is prohibited. It does open the door to future no-take zones being created following another period of public comment and economic impact studies. It does restrict some government agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers because now they have to consult with the NOAA anytime they want to take action that would impact the 22 threatened coral species.