Posted by: reefrescue | January 22, 2010

Feds too busy to review habitat protection for Palm Beach staghorn reefs

NOAA/NMFS denies the Reef Rescue petition to expand the critical habitat designation to include ESA listed staghorn coral colonies offshore of the Town of Palm Beach.

In the January 22, 2010 Federal Register NOAA/NMFS published their determination on the Reef Rescue petition requesting the expansion of the critical habitat designation to include ESA listed staghorn coral colonies offshore of the Town of Palm Beach.

NMFS said “the process of designating the current critical habitat for elkhorn and staghorn corals consumed significant personnel resources (i.e., 1.5 fulltime employees) for the better part of a 2year period. Were we to undertake a revision [as requested by Reef Rescue] of the recently designated critical habitat, our limited resources would again be diverted from other work, which in turn would delay the completion of other priorities, yet would only realize a very small change (offering limited benefits) in the critical habitat area for one of the coral species…

We [NMFS] also note that we are currently working to implement our mandatory obligations under the statute regarding a recently received petition to list 83 species of corals as endangered or threatened, 8 of which co-occur in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans with staghorn and elkhorn corals, and to designate critical habitat for these species.”

Reef Rescue adds it is important to understand the staghorn coral colonies offshore of Palm Beach and elsewhere (in US waters) are still afforded full protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). South of the Boynton Inlet the staghorn colonies as well as the coral reef habitat are federally protected. Reef Rescue volunteer divers will continue to survey the local reefs for new staghorn coral locations.

Reef Rescue is disappointed with the ruling and had hoped the NMFS determination would have been based on the best available science rather than on their workload. We are currently reviewing our legal options regarding this matter.

Palm Beach resident Connie Gasque surveys the staghorn colonies she discovered offshore of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-lago estate.

Link to January 22, 2010 Federal Register: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-1204.pdf

Click to read a summary of the Palm Beach staghorn debate

Read Palm Beach Post:

Town officials cheer the news that rare species won’t get added federal safeguards: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/palm-beach-fends-off-coral-protections-favoring-beach-191244.html

Video links:

Palm Beach staghorn video

Town of Palm Beach opposes habitat protection video

Other RR staghorn coral blogs:

https://reefrescue.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/palm-beach-and-reef-rescue-lock-horns-over-staghorn-coral-protection/

Email from NOAA Fisheries Service:

January 22, 2010

Interested Party,
Our final determination on a petition to revise Acropora critical
habitat published today in the Federal Register and is attached for your
review. We have evaluated the available scientific information and have
decided, based on the adequacy of the existing, recent designation to
meet the corals’ conservation needs, the relatively low benefit the
requested revision would provide, the protections afforded to the
species from the recent ESA section 4(d) regulations, and our need to
complete higher priority conservation activities for these and other
coral species, to deny the petitioned action. If you have any questions
feel free to contact me.

Jennifer Ann Moore
Acropora Coordinator
Natural Resource Specialist
NOAA Fisheries Service
Protected Resources Division
263 13th Ave. S.
St. Petersburg, FL  33701
(727)824-5312 phone
(727)824-5309 fax
jennifer.moore@noaa.gov

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