The feds have decided that no corals in Hawaiian waters are worth protecting under the Endangered Species Act at this point.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that 20 new corals will be listed as threatened, but they are all found in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific.

The original petition, filed in 2009 by the Center for Biological Diversity, sought protections for 83 reef-building corals — nine of which are found in Hawaii.


Coral on the north shore of Oahu, August 2014.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

In 2012, NOAA proposed protecting 12 of those as endangered and 54 as threatened. But after two more years of public testimony, outcry from fishermen and threats of lawsuits by environmental groups, the list was boiled down to 20. 

“The final decision is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA,” Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said in a release. “The amount of scientific information sought, obtained and analyzed was unprecedented.”

NOAA received roughly 32,000 comments through electronic submissions, letters and oral testimony during public hearings. 

The feds attributed the significant departure from the 2012 proposed rule to the public comments and availability of new scientific papers on climate change and coral habitat, distribution and abundance. 

“Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth, providing habitat for many marine species,” Sobeck said. “Protecting and conserving these biologically rich ecosystems is essential, and the Endangered Species Act gives us the tools to conserve and recover those corals most in need of protection.”

Learn more about the final decision and what it means here.

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