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US agency says cauliflower coral may need federal protection

September 23, 2018

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — A species of coral that environmentalists say is at risk from climate change could need U.S. protections across its entire range — not just in Hawaii, federal officials have found.

The National Marine Fisheries Service last week issued a finding on a March petition seeking Endangered Species Act protections for cauliflower coral, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported .

The agency says it will conduct a review on whether the coral requires protections throughout the Indo-Pacific and Eastern Pacific, where it’s found on most shallow reefs. It also is found in Hawaii.

Cauliflower coral has been devastated by habitat changes, disease, predators and other factors tied to climate change, including ocean acidification, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for the coral to be protected as a threatened or endangered species.

In just Hawaii, there was a 36.1 percent drop in coverage of the coral from 1999 to 2012, the group said.

“Cauliflower corals are in crisis, so this is great news,” Maxx Phillips, the group’s Hawaii director, said of the federal finding. “We need to take care of our coral reefs to maintain a healthy biodiversity in our oceans.”

He said U.S. action is needed to protect the species as well as “our coral ecosystems that are dying out from ocean warming and climate change.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service released its decision Thursday.

“We find that the petition and other readily available information in our files indicates that P. meandrina may warrant listing as a threatened species or an endangered species throughout its range,” the agency said. “Thus, we will initiate a global status review of P. meandrina to determine whether listing it throughout its range is warranted.”

A proposal for a threatened or endangered listing could come early next year because the agency is required to provide a decision within 12 months of the petition being filed.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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