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Feds to protect 20 coral species

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The federal government is protecting 20 types of colorful coral by putting them on the list of threatened species, partly because of climate change.

As with the polar bear, much of the threat to the coral species is because of expected problems caused by global warming, said David Bernhart, an endangered-species official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These coral species are being hurt by climate change “but not to the point that they are endangered yet,” he said.

Climate change is making the oceans warmer, more acidic and helping with coral diseases like bleaching — and those “are the major threats” explaining why the species were put on the threatened list, Bernhart said on Wednesday in a conference call.

Other threats include overfishing, runoff from the land, and some coastal construction, but those are lesser, Bernhart said.

Five species can be found off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They include pillar coral, rough cactus coral and three species of star coral. The other 15 are in the Pacific Ocean area near Guam and American Samoa, but not Hawaii.

The agency looked at 66 species, but decided on 20 to join two species listed.

Coral reefs, which are in trouble worldwide, are important fish habitats.

The agency set no new rules yet that would prevent coral from being harvested or damaged.

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