Proposed ESA Listing of Corals because of Climate Change Impacts

By Alex Score 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

In May 2006, elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) corals were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These were some of the first species to receive a listing attributed to climate change. Since the listing, there have been many efforts to protect these fragile reef-building corals. In the Florida Keys, the Coral Restoration Foundation has successfully created offshore staghorn nurseries and restored damaged reef areas. These efforts have been successful locally, yet elkhorn and staghorn continue to decline throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean. And they are not alone - many coral species have significantly declined due to sensitivity to temperature changes, diseases, acidic waters (which weaken the skeletal structure of corals), and other local stressors such as coastal development and pollution. In recognition of these climate change impacts and extreme sensitivity of corals, NOAA Fisheries is now proposing the listing of 66 species, 59 species in the Pacific and seven in the Atlantic/Caribbean, including the reclassification of the elkhorn and staghorn to “endangered” status. Listing species as endangered will not result in prohibiting fishing or diving, but will prohibit take, harming, wounding, killing, or collecting these species; it will also prohibit the import and export of the listed species.


Coral reefs serve as critical habitat to hundreds of economically important species in the United States and territories providing an annual net economic benefit of US$483 million from tourism and recreation and $1.1 billion from overall goods and services (Cesar et al. 2003). This proposed listing is a critical step in protecting these fragile, important ecosystems. The final ruling will take place after an analysis of public comment. To learn more about the initial petition to list coral species under the ESA, view the case study on CAKE; to provide comment, visit the NOAA Fisheries website.