Proposed Rule to Designate Critical Habitat for the Threatened Caribbean Corals
NOAA Fisheries proposes to designate critical habitat for the threatened Caribbean corals: Orbicella annularis, O. faveolata, O. franksi, Dendrogyra cylindrus, and Mycetophyllia ferox pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Twenty-eight mostly overlapping specific occupied areas containing physical features essential to the conservation of all these coral species are being proposed for designation as critical habitat; these areas contain approximately 15,000 square kilometers (km2; 5,900 square miles (mi2)) of marine habitat. We have considered positive and negative economic, national security, and other relevant impacts of the proposed designations, and we propose to exclude one area from the critical habitat designations due to anticipated impacts on national security. We are soliciting comments from the public on all aspects of the proposal, including our identification of the geographical area and depths occupied by the species, the physical and biological feature essential to the coral species’ conservation and identification, areas not included and excluded, and consideration of impacts of the proposed action.