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Critical Habitat Defined for Threatened Acroporid Corals

In November 2008 critical habitat was defined for two of Florida's iconic coral species that are listed as threatened under the endangered species act.

In May 2006 two species of coral, the Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis) and the Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata), were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A species listed as threatened is defined as "any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." Both of these species were once dominate in shallow reef crest habitats throughout the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas. In the last 30 years populations of these two species of coral have declined drastically. Coral diseases have been identified as the primary cause of the demise of these two species.

map showing critical areas for elkhorn and staghorn corals

ESA requires that critical habitat is designated and recovery plans are developed and implemented for species listed as threatened or endangered. Critical habitat is defined as areas that may require special management considerations or protection that are within the geographic range of a species and that contain physical or biological features essential to the conservation the species. Specific areas outside the geographic area occupied by a species can also be listed as critical habitat if it is determined that the area is essential for conservation.

In November of 2008 critical habitat for Staghorn and Elkhorn corals was defined. Critical habitat for these Acroporid corals in Florida extends from Palm Beach County to Key West which also includes the Dry Tortugas. The designation of critical habitat represents a milestone in the conservation of these two species and should also provide invaluable benefits to other coral reef organisms living in these areas.

For more information on the Endangered Species Act visit the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Program Web site