NOAA Seeks Greater Protections for Threatened Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals

December 18, 2007

Elkhorn Coral
Elkhorn Coral.

+ High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA is proposing to extend most of the prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act - normally applied only to endangered species - to the threatened elkhorn and staghorn corals.

NOAA biologists estimate more than 90 percent of elkhorn and staghorn corals have been lost because of coral bleaching due to rising sea temperatures, disease, and tropical storm damage. Both species were listed as threatened in May 2006.

“These were the most dominant and important coral species on Florida and Caribbean reefs,” said Roy Crabtree, NOAA Fisheries Southeast regional administrator. “Since their decline, they no longer fulfill their important ecosystem role – which includes protecting coasts from storms and supporting healthy fisheries.”

Species listed as endangered under the ESA are automatically covered by a suite of protective measures and prohibitions in the law. However, for species listed as threatened, such as elkhorn and staghorn corals, these same measures and prohibitions do not automatically apply. Therefore, NOAA Fisheries Service developed a separate proposed rule, called a 4(d) rule after section 4(d) of the ESA, detailing the prohibitions necessary to provide for the conservation of elkhorn and staghorn corals.

Staghorns Coral
Staghorn Coral.

+ High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The proposed rule would prohibit the take, trade and all commercial activities involving elkhorn and staghorn corals. For corals, collection or any activity that will result in mortality and harm is considered a “take” of the species. Other prohibited activities include anchoring or grounding a vessel on the coral, dragging a fishing gear on the species, removing or altering the corals’ habitat; or discharging any pollutant or contaminant that will harm the species.

Allowable activities are limited to qualified scientific research and enhancement and restoration activities carried out by an authorized agency.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service developed these prohibitions and exceptions from suggestions by federal, state and territorial resource managers, fishermen, environmental organizations, universities, and coral research institutions during a series of workshops in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The public has 90 days to comment on the proposed rule, which is available at, by contacting NOAA’s Jennifer Moore at, or by fax request sent to 727-824-5309.

Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods and should reference (RIN) 0648-AU92 in the subject line:

NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources and their habitats through scientific research, management, and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries Service provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

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