Marianas Variety

Sunday, November 23, 2014-5:14:54A.M.

Last updateFri, 21 Nov 2014 8pm

Headlines:

GovGuam hits federal control of coral species

HAGÅTÑA — A local biologist confirmed 35 of the 82 coral reef species petitioned for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, or ESA, are facing extinction in Guam’s waters, but the local government is opposing possible federal control, saying recovery initiatives must be taken through regional initiatives or international treaties.

David Burdick, a biologist at the Bureau of Statistics and Plans’ Guam Coastal Management Program, said eight more coral reef species are likely threatened besides the ones proposed by the National Marines Fisheries Services for inclusion in the ESA listing.

“The high abundance and widespread distribution of many of these species, should any of them become listed, would likely lead to the designation of large expanses of Guam’s coral reef ecosystem as critical habitat,” BSP Director Thomas Morrison said in a letter to Lance Smith, regulatory branch chief of the Protected Resource Division of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Under the ESA, the federal government has the responsibility to protect species listed as endangered or threatened as well as critical habitats. But Morrison said the negative impacts of listing Guam coral reefs under ESA outweigh its benefits.

“While there may be benefits as a result of the protection of these species afforded by the ESA,” Morrison said, “the further stretching of already limited local and federal capacity will likely detract from the important work currently being carried out on Guam toward the protection and conservation of Guam’s entire coral reef ecosystems.”

Morrison is also concerned the ESA takeover might entail funding cuts for agencies currently tasked to implement coastal protection programs.

Last month, the Guam Department of Administration received $870,000 in formula grants from NOAA to help in the implementation of the Guam Coastal Management Program. This was the second NOAA grant that rolled into Guam this year. In May, Guam received a $556,286 grant from the Coral Reef Conservation Grant program to fund projects identified in the Guam Coral Reef Management priorities, “which address the impacts of land-based pollution, fishing, the military buildup, recreation, and climate change.”

“While the currently degraded state of many of Guam’s reef resources is primarily a result of activities carried out locally, we are also aware of the impending impacts associated with climate change, such as ocean acidification and an increase in the frequency and severity of mass bleaching events,” Morrison said. “But we don’t think the ESA is the appropriate tool to protect these species from extinction, let alone aid in the recovery of the already degraded coral reef ecosystems.”

Morrison said ocean warming and ocean acidification can be better addressed through “aggressive international treaties” and federal legislation to reduce carbon emissions and the emission of other greenhouses gases.

Citing examples of local and regional actions, Morrison noted that Guam is engaged with regional partners in conservation initiatives under the Micronesia Challenge and through participation in the resolutions adopted by the Micronesia Chief Executives.

“While we are not aware of a silver bullet that would force the U.S. and other nations to make significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions,” Morrison said, “the failure of attempts to use the ESA protection of polar bears to force the U.S. to regulate greenhouse gas emissions suggests that the attempts to use the listing of coral species may likewise fail.”