The National Marine Fisheries Service will determine by June 30 whether cauliflower coral around Hawaii warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity was recently filed in federal court in Honolulu.
The center, a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members, petitioned in May 2018 to protect the bushy, shallow-water coral species that has been devastated by ocean warming, with its coverage around Hawaii declining by 36% from 1999 to 2012.
Cauliflower corals experienced severe bleaching during last summer’s record-breaking temperatures.
The service said in May 2019 that listing under the Endangered Species Act might be warranted, but failed to follow up, prompting the Center for Biological Diversity to sue in October.
“The Trump administration can’t keep stalling decisions to protect cauliflower coral and other vulnerable species,” Center for Biological Diversity Hawaii Director Maxx Phillips said in a press release. “Time is running out to save our coral reefs and the rich marine biodiversity they support. Hawaii’s coral reefs urgently need protection. Cauliflower coral, which is called ko’a in Hawaiian, will only be here for future generations if we take care of it now.”
Cauliflower coral is a major reef-building coral that protects Hawaii’s shorelines and provides habitat for fish and crabs. New research indicates human-induced climate change and ocean warming could destroy most of the world’s coral reefs by 2,100 without reductions in fossil fuel use.
While protecting corals ultimately requires reducing global temperature increases by cutting carbon pollution, the Center for Biological Diversity said cauliflower coral is also threatened by land-based pollution, sedimentation, and physical disturbances by humans. Those impacts would be minimized and/or mitigated if the coral was protected by the Endangered Species Act.