NOAA designates coral critical habitat, excludes naval training area
73 Fed. Reg. 72210 / Vol. 73, No. 229 / Wednesday, November 26, 2008 / Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; 50 CFR Parts 223 and 226; Endangered and Threatened Species; Critical Habitat for Threatened Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals; Final Rule
SUMMARY: We, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), issue a final rule designating critical habitat for elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (A. cervicornis) corals, which we listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA), on May 9, 2006. Four specific areas are designated: the Florida area, which comprises approximately 1,329 square miles (3,442 sq km) of marine habitat; the Puerto Rico area, which comprises approximately 1,383 square miles (3,582 sq km) of marine habitat; the St. John/St. Thomas area, which comprises approximately 121 square miles (313 sq km) of marine habitat; and the St. Croix area, which comprises approximately 126 square miles (326 sq km) of marine habitat. We are excluding one military site, comprising approximately 5.5 square miles (14.3 sq km), because of national security impacts. DATES: This rule becomes effective December 26, 2008.
KEITHINKING: see prior ESA blawg posting from July 2008 on the troubled future for coral, and Miami Herald article (Nov. 30, 2008) on the potential impacts of climate change for these threatened marine species.
Impacts to national security as a result of the coral critical habitat designation were expected to occur in a 5.5 sq mile (14.2 sq km) area in Dania, FL. Based on information provided to NOAA by the Navy, national security interests would be negatively impacted by the designation, because the potential additional consultations and project modifications to avoid adversely modifying the essential feature would interfere with military training and readiness. Dania, Florida is home to the South Florida Ocean Measurement Center (SFOMC) an active, continuously operating Navy range for over forty years, and the only ship, submarine, and mine-effectiveness test range with simultaneous air, surface, and subsurface tracking capability. Based on these considerations, NOAA excluded the particular area identified by the Navy from the critical habitat designation. Photo of a Nova Southeastern University diver from the SFOMC applied research webpages.