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U.S. Moving To Protect Dying Coral Off South Florida Coast
By Matt J. Weiss, February 23, 2008 @ 02:00 AM (EST)
Source: sun-sentinel.com

s pyramids rose in the Nile valley and the monuments of Greece and Rome went up and fell into ruin, two species of coral patiently built reefs off the coasts of Florida and the Caribbean islands.

These vast undersea structures, often compared to tropical rain forests, support a rainbow of fish, crabs and other creatures. But in the past few decades, elkhorn and staghorn coral have declined in many areas 90 percent because of global warming, ship groundings, storm damage, pollution and overfishing.

The federal government is now proposing to declare an extensive protected area for the two species from the coasts of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties through the Florida Keys to the U.S. islands of the Caribbean.

Designation of the 4,931-square-mile area could affect plans for beach-widening, port expansions, sewage discharges, ship anchoring and other coastal activities. Although it is unlikely to halt them, it would add a layer of scrutiny that could force changes or relocations to avoid harming the corals, said Sarah Heberling, natural resource specialist for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"They're the major reef builders," Heberling said. "They provide the topographic relief in the water column for different species to hide and live and grow, from fish to algae."

The proposal comes in response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, a San Francisco group that filed the successful petition to have A‚?’è the corals classified as threatened species.

Miyoko Sakashita, attorney for the group, said, "I think they did a good job identifying the areas, and it's great that they're contiguous areas. Species with critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as species without it."

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