Corals are not as visible as panthers, manatees or dolphins. But scientists say they deserve just as much protection -- and respect -- as other animals beloved by Floridians.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed extending federal protection to 66 species of coral, including seven local species that scientists say are nearing extinction.
Scientists have observed a massive decline in coral over the past ten years. And if all of South Florida’s coral reefs were to simply disappear, the result would look like an underwater “Silent Spring.”
"We are looking at much less tourism in our region,” says National Marine Fisheries Service ecologist Margaret Miller. “We're looking at a loss of fisheries. And it will result in a world where our coastlines are more vulnerable to storms and ocean impacts because that protecting structure would be lost."
An endangered species listing could protect corals from a wide array of natural and man-made threats, including damage from dredging or beach renourishment projects.
Public hearings on the federal protection proposal for corals will be held from 7-9 p.m. at the Nova Southeastern University Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystem Science, 8000 North Ocean Drive, Dania Beach. Hearings are also scheduled Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. at John Pennekamp State Park Visitors Center, 102601 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, and Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. at Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, 35 East Quay Road, Key West.