Island residents opposed Tuesday night a proposal to include several coral species on the Endangered Species Act list, saying the move is not warranted due to a lack of enough information on the species and logistical issues, among others.
The public hearing hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe is part of the ongoing comment period for the proposal.
Tuesday's event was the ninth of a series of public hearings that NOAA hosted throughout the Pacific Islands, while another group of federal staffers held similar public hearings in the Caribbean.
Lisa M. Van Atta, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service assistant regional administrator for protected resources, said the proposal to list 66 coral species was set off by a petition they received in 2009 from the Center for Biological Diversity.
CBD's petition, based on a scientific report, sought to list as either endangered or threatened at least 83 coral species, providing them with additional protection that would prevent these species from going extinct, said Van Atta.
She said that one of the species was removed from the list since it did not meet NOAA's initial criteria, trimming the list down to 82. Of those species, NOAA is currently proposing 66 species to be listed-59 of which are found in the Pacific and seven others in Caribbean.
Van Atta revealed that of the 59 proposed species in the Pacific, 29 occur in the CNMI-28 are proposed as threatened while one specie is proposed as endangered.
“This was a huge undertaking for NOAA Fisheries-almost unprecedented,” according to Van Atta, explaining that the agency had to assemble a biological review team of scientists to put together the biological and ecological basis for the listing.
Their work, she said, resulted in two “extensive” reports on the 82 coral species: the status review report that identified 19 major threats to coral species and concluded that most coral species are likely to be in danger of extinction by 2100; and the management report, which concluded that the worst threats-ocean warming, disease, and ocean acidification-are the “hardest” threats to manage, and called for a recovery plan for the involved species.
Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Arnold Palacios said the proposed listing is another “divisive issue” in the Northern Marianas, alluding to the creation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
“We're being asked again to give up a lot of things,” he said.
Palacios urged NOAA to quantify the impact of the proposal on CNMI and other affected Pacific Islands.
John Gourley said he could not support the listing of the proposed coral species due to lack of information available on them. He will, however, support the species to be identified as “species of concern” until such time that sufficient information is available to make an informed decision on the listing.
Steven Johnson said the listing would result in a “logistical nightmares” such as distribution and monitoring issues, making it difficult for both people who enforce the laws and those who have to live with these laws.
Tanapag resident Benigno M. Sablan said he is “quite critical” of a lot of federal impositions and regulations that distort the island culture.
“We have provided all the significant laws and regulations to protect our coral species. To list them in range is detrimental to our way of life,” he said, adding that the proposal would “tremendously” impact island residents who depend on fishing on a daily basis.
In an interview after the public hearing, NOAA deputy regional administrator Lisa Ku'ulei Croft noted “common themes” throughout the public hearings they conducted in the Pacific. They expect the same theme in the Rota public hearing scheduled tonight.
Croft said it's also “interesting” to see the level of education of the comments they receive, that people are “really well-informed” and have a good understanding of the issue.
Because of the interest generated by the proposal, Van Atta said they are leaning toward extending the comment period for another 30 days, moving the deadline from March 7 to April 7. But this does not change their Dec. 7 deadline to have the final determination for the proposed listing, she added.
“The important thing for us to let folks know is that a decision has not been made,” noted Croft.
She and Van Atta urged the public to provide their comments by logging on to www.regulations.gov and enter 0648-XT12 or NOAA-NMFS-2010-0036 into the keyword search; or mailing the comments along with supporting documents to:
NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office
1601 Kapiolani Blvd., Ste. 1110
Honolulu, HI 96814
Attn: Listing corals under the Endangered Species Act