Maui News

Lawsuit Alleges Failure to Protect Hawai‘i Cauliflower Coral

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The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for allegedly failing to protect cauliflower coral around the Hawaiian Islands. “The bushy, shallow-water coral species has been devastated by ocean warming triggered by human-caused climate change,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in a press release.

The Center pointed toward a “marine heat wave” saying it is now hitting Hawaiʻi’s coral reefs.  The conditions have led researchers to predict massive coral bleaching. The Center reports that “Cauliflower coral coverage around Hawaiʻi declined by 36 percent from 1999 to 2012, and current conditions are expected to worsen that decline.”

“Cauliflower coral is like the canary in the coal mine of our warming oceans. Marine life around Hawaiʻi will suffer without bold actions to protect coral reefs,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawaiʻi director. “Hawaiʻi’s coral reefs are dying and they need our help. Letting colorful corals bleach white and die indicates an ocean becoming less bountiful and biodiverse.”

Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Hawaiʻi, challenges the NMFS’ alleged failure to protect cauliflower coral under the Endangered Species Act. The Fisheries Service said last year listing may be warranted, but failed to follow up, prompting the Center to issue a notice letter in May.

Cauliflower corals are a major reef-building coral, protecting Hawaiʻi’s shorelines and providing habitat for fish and crabs.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “While protecting corals ultimately requires reducing global temperature increases by cutting fossil fuel emissions, cauliflower coral is also threatened by land-based pollution, sedimentation and physical disturbances by humans. An Endangered Species Act listing could help minimize and mitigate those threats. Federally permitted projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions should also mitigate impacts to listed corals.”


An earlier coral listing petition, filed by the Center in 2006, resulted in the protection of elkhorn and staghorn corals, which became the first species ever protected under the Act. Listing only prohibits people from harming or injuring protected corals, not from swimming, surfing, snorkeling, fishing or enjoying the ocean and coral reefs that reside there.


Phillips said, “We want to protect it, but we need federal help. Healthy coral reefs are the foundation of healthy oceans.”

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