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NOAA Lists 20 New Corals as Threatened Under the Endangered Species Act.

In total, 22 species of coral are now protected under the Endangered Species Act, including the two corals (elkhorn and staghorn) listed as threatened in 2006. Fifteen of the newly listed species occur in the Indo-Pacific and five in the Caribbean (see table below). None are found in Hawaii.

Protecting and conserving biologically diverse coral reefs is essential. The Endangered Species Act gives us some important tools to conserve and recover those corals ​most in need of protection. The final decision to list these 20 corals is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA. The amount of scientific information sought, obtained, and analyzed was unprecedented. This information included general reef-building coral biology, habitat characteristics and threats, as well as species-specific spatial, demographic, and other information for the individual coral species in the final rule.

The final decision is a significant change from the proposed rule in November 2012, which proposed listing 66 species (a mix of threatened and endangered). We changed our determinations for many of the species for two general reasons:

What Happens Next?

  • There are currently no prohibitions relating to individual conduct, except for those related to the two previously listed elkhorn and staghorn corals in the Caribbean.
  • We will consult with federal agencies on actions that they execute, fund, or authorize that “may affect” listed corals to ensure the action does not jeopardize the continued existence of these corals.
  • In the future, we may also identify specific regulations for the conservation of these threatened species, because ESA prohibitions against “take” are not automatically applied as they are for species listed as endangered.
  • We will continue to work with communities to help them understand how the agency’s decision may or may not affect them. The tools available under the Endangered Species Act are sufficiently flexible so that they can be used in partnership with coastal jurisdictions, in a manner that will allow activity to move forward in a way that does not jeopardize listed coral.
  • We will now work with partners on mitigation measures and recovery strategies for the newly listed corals, building from approaches that have shown success elsewhere.




Threatened Corals Currently Known in These U.S. Geographic Areas
Caribbean Waters Florida - Atlantic Puerto Rico U.S. Virgin Islands Gulf of Mexico
Acropora cervicornis (Staghorn)* X X X  
Acropora palmata (Elkhorn)* X X X X
Mycetophyllia ferox X X X  
Dendrogyra cylindrus X X X  
Orbicella annularis X X X X
Orbicella faveolata X X X X
Orbicella franksi X X X X
Pacific Waters Guam Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands Pacific Remote Island Areas American Samoa
Acropora globiceps X X X X
Acropora jacquelineae       X
Acropora lokani        
Acropora pharaonis        
Acropora retusa X X X X
Acropora rudis        
Acropora speciosa     X X
Acropora tenella        
Anacropora spinosa        
Euphyllia paradivisa       X
Isopora crateriformis       X
Montipora australiensis        
Pavona diffluens        
Porites napopora        
Seriatopora aculeata X X    

About Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are critical to the health of marine ecosystems and they face severe threats. Coral reefs world-wide have declined significantly—some individual species have declined by at least 90 percent. Healthy coral reefs provide shoreline protection for coastal communities and habitat for a variety of species, including commercially important fish. These benefits are lost when corals are degraded. As part of this rule-making process, NOAA identified a number of threats to coral ecosystems, some of the most serious of which are: impacts related to climate change (rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and disease), ecological effects of fishing, and poor land-use practices.