Coral reefs are undergoing deterioration at an unprecedented rate, to the point that their very persistence is in question in many locations and species composition is changing dramatically. The Protected Species Science Branch focuses on tropical, shallow-water, stony corals, and coordinates with NOAA’s deep sea coral program. Corals were first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2006. Their inclusion presents an interesting application of the ESA, as shallow-water, tropical corals build reefs that protect our coastlines, create valuable fisheries habitat, and are the basis of a multi-million dollar global tourism industry. These tropical shallow-water corals also construct the ocean’s most diverse habitat, housing untold numbers of yet undiscovered species. The Protected Species Science Branch works closely with the NMFS Office of Protected Resources, NMFS Southeast Regional Office Protected Resources Division, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Offices Protected Resources Division, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program,the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, and the Southeast Fisheries Science Center to fund, coordinate, and conduct the research necessary to preserve and recover these animals under rapidly changing environmental conditions. 

Coral Monitoring and Assessment

NOAA has jurisdiction over a wide expanse of tropical coral reef habitat across Pacific and Caribbean territorial waters, and NOAA’s Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP) has a detailed annual assessment program to monitor reef habitat throughout U.S. waters. The Protected Species Science Branch coordinates closely with NCRMP to deliver scientifically sound information on ESA-listed corals to the managers who regulate activities affecting these corals. For one such example see the Coral Demographics Toolbox.

Coral Restoration

In November 2016, the Protected Species Science Branch along with many internal and external partners, convened the Workshop to Advance the Science and Practice of Caribbean Coral Restoration. [The goals achieved at the workshop were to foster collaboration and technology transfer among coral restoration scientists, practitioners, and managers, and initiate a community of practice that will continue to address the evolving role of active coral restoration in the evolutionary history of coral reef ecosystems.] Read here for more on the workshop. Here is a short summary of the workshop. 
  • The idea behind the workshop was to begin a sustained conversation about how to increase the scope and scale of restoration to match the rapid decline of reefs. This conversation continues here. (Registration required.)
  • As a result of the workshop, the PSSB along with its partners is developing a Coral Restoration Consortium. The idea behind the Consortium is to continue to facilitate communication and increase collaboration among reef restoration practitioners and scientists, so that the community as a whole can work more efficiently to ameliorate tropical coral reef degradation. The consortium should be developed by Spring 2017.

Coral-themed Habitat Focus Areas

NOAA is collaborating both internally -- across its various line office, and externally -- with other federal and state agencies, and non-governmental organizations, to make positive changes in 10 Habitat Focus Areas (HFAs) across the country. Conservations and restoration measures in these locations are already beginning to translate to more resilient coastal economies and communities and more seamless and efficient applications of our federal regulations. The Protected Species Science Branch helps ensure that appropriate science and monitoring is included in all 10 focus areas, and helps coordinate the Caribbean coral-themed HFAs. Click below for more information on the four coral-themed Habitat Focus Areas.

For more information on coral species protection visit:

Lisa Wedding

Coral Restoration Consortium Newsletter

Issue #1