Proposed Rule to Designate Critical Habitat for Indo-Pacific Corals
We, NOAA Fisheries, propose to designate critical habitat for five threatened coral species in U.S. waters in the Pacific Islands region, pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species Act. This proposal builds on and replaces a previous proposal in 2020.
On November 27, 2020, we published a proposal to designate 17 island units of critical habitat in the Pacific Islands region for 7 Indo-Pacific coral species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Based on public comments and new information regarding the interpretation of the records of the listed corals and application to critical habitat, a substantial revision of the proposed rule is warranted. Accordingly, we are withdrawing the 2020 proposed rule and publishing this new proposed rule.
We propose to designate critical habitat for five of the seven coral species that were addressed in the 2020 proposed rule:
The proposed critical habitat includes select locations in the waters around 16 island units:
- American Samoa – Ofu-Olosega; Tutuila and Ta`u in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa; and Rose Atoll, in the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa
- Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – Rota; Aguijan; Tinian; Saipan; Alamagan; Pagan; and Maug Islands and Uracas in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument
- Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – Lalo (French Frigate Shoals) in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
- Pacific Remote Islands Area – Palmyra and Johnston Atolls in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument
Collectively, these encompass approximately 251 square kilometers (km2; 97 square miles, mi2) of marine habitat. Several areas are ineligible for critical habitat because of final Department of Defense Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans that we have determined will benefit the listed corals. We have considered economic, national security, and other relevant impacts of the proposed designations, and we are not proposing to exclude any areas from the critical habitat designations due to anticipated impacts.
We are seeking comments from the public on all aspects of the proposal, including the area proposed for designation, the attributes of the proposed essential feature, and probable benefits and impacts stemming from this designation.
Comments on the proposed rule can be submitted November 30, 2023, through February 28, 2024.
Information Meetings and Public Hearings
NOAA Fisheries is holding seven public information meetings and hearings during the public comment period to provide information to the public and solicit comments on the proposed rule.