We must restore threatened and endangered species and their habitats to vibrant health

What's At Stake

The globe is experiencing a biodiversity crisis that threatens to unravel the very fabric of life as we know it. Species ranging from wildflowers to wolves, butterflies to blue whales, and corals to condors face mounting challenges to their survival. It does not have to be this way. The Endangered Species Act gives us the tools to help these species survive, and to recover them to healthy numbers. But we must put those tools to work now.

We need to urge the Biden administration to strengthen Endangered Species Act regulations to achieve the law’s ultimate purpose: to restore threatened and endangered species and their habitats to vibrant health.

Coral reefs are a prime example of species and habitats that require urgent, bold action under the Endangered Species Act. Coral reefs around the world are at risk of ecological collapse. Across the U.S. and beyond, coral reefs have declined dramatically, largely due to climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, coastal development, and unsustainable fishing activities.

A healthy coral reef provides habitat to over a quarter of all marine species on Earth, protects coastlines from getting battered by storms, and provides cultural, subsistence, scientific, economic, and recreational value for coastal communities and their visitors. The fates of corals and humans are intertwined. Corals provide the highest biodiversity of any global ecosystem and are among the Earth’s most threatened.

Saving corals and other threatened species begins with stopping further harm. One way the Endangered Species Act does this is by allowing federal wildlife agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to prohibit intentionally harming or buying and selling threatened species. While the Fish and Wildlife Service chose to enact blanket protections for threatened species decades ago, NMFS has yet to take this crucial step to protect the marine species it’s charged with conserving. That means more than two dozen shark, fish, and 20 coral species, are languishing without meaningful protections from some of the same threats that caused them to be listed in the first place.

Without a blanket rule, corals and other threatened marine species could slide towards extinction while the NMFS determines a specific set of protections for each individual species. The Biden administration must act with the urgency this crisis requires, and institute blanket protections to preserve our precious ocean heritage and ensure that no threatened species are left without safeguards.

The job does not end with stopping harm, however. The ultimate purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to recover all threatened and endangered species to healthy abundance. The law requires all federal agencies to proactively help listed species recover. But this far-reaching, positive aspect of the law has never been fully implemented.

We’re asking the Biden administration to fulfill the full promise of the Act and direct federal agencies to create concrete programs to boost the health of listed species and the habitats they — and we — depend on.

Orange coral, looking like a tree branch, growing in blue water with fish swimming nearby.
Staghorn coral at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park near Key Largo, Florida. (Rolf von Riedmatten / Getty Images)

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