After two years of assessment and public comment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has whittled down an initial list of 66 coral species  considered for protection  under the Endangered Species Act in 2012 and today listed 20 as threatened and no species as endangered â" the most protect ive category. Five of the newly listed species are from the Caribbean and 15 from the Pacific or Indian Oceans. Two coral species, elkhorn and staghorn, were listed as threatened in 2006.
The move was a response to a 2009 petition to list 83 coral species  filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. The limited listing seems to be in sync with the âfrom despair to repairâ message of the recentÂ comprehensive review of Caribbean coral reef threats and conservation opportunities  by the International Union for Conservation of Nature .
Hereâs some background from the agency, with links to more context:
In total, 22 species of coral are now protected under the Endangered Species Act, including the two corals (elkhorn and staghorn) listed as threatened in 2006. Fifteen of the newly listed species occur in the Indo-Pacific and five in the Caribbean (see table on reverse for details). None are found in Hawaii.
Protecting and conserving biologically diverse coral reefs is essential. The Endangered Species Act gives us some important tools to conserve and recover those corals âmost in need of protection. The final decision to list these 20 corals is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA. The amount of scientific information sought, obtained, and analyzed was unprecedented. This information included general reef-building coral biology, habitat characteristics and threats, as well as species-specific spatial, demographic, and other information for the individual coral species in the final rule.
The final decision is a significant change from the proposed rule in November 2012, which proposed listing 66 species (a mix of threatened and endangered). We changed our determinations for many of the species for two general reasons:
We received and gathered new general and species specific information. Public comments helped us refine the way we apply all the available information to determine vulnerability to extinction of each species considered.
What Happens Next?
There are currently no prohibitions relating to individual conduct, except for those related to the two previously listed elkhorn and staghorn corals in the Caribbean.
We will consult with federal agencies on actions that they execute, fund, or authorize that âmay affectâ listed corals to ensure the action does not jeopardize the continued existence of these corals.
In the future, we may also identify specific regulations for the conservation of these threatened species, because ESA prohibitions against âtakeâ are not automatically applied as they are for species listed as endangered.
We will continue to work with communities to help them understand how the agencyâs decision may or may not affect them. The tools available under the Endangered Species Act are sufficiently flexible so that they can be used partnership with coastal jurisdictions, in a manner that will allow activity to move forward in a way that does not jeopardize listed coral.
We will now work with partners on mitigation measures and recovery strategies for the newly listed corals, building from approaches that have shown success elsewhere.
For more on coral reef prospects, I encourage you to read  or listen to  âThe Health and Future of Our Coral Reefs,â a recent segment on the Diane Rehm public radio show featuring Fabien Cousteau, Mark Eakin of N.O.A.A., Nancy Knowlton, an author of the I.U.C.N. report and yours truly.
- ^ initial list of 66 coral species (www.motherjones.com)
- ^ considered for protection (dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com)
- ^ a 2009 petition to list 83 coral species (www.biologicaldiversity.org)
- ^ comprehensive review of Caribbean coral reef threats and conservation opportunities (dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com)
- ^ read (thedianerehmshow.org)
- ^ listen to (thedianerehmshow.org)