KAILUA-KONA — The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trumpadministration Thursday for failing to protect cauliflower coral around theHawaiian Islands, the agency said in a news release.

The bushy, shallow-water coral species has been devastated by ocean warmingtriggered by human-caused climate change.

A strong marine heat wave is now hitting Hawaii’s coral reefs hard, andresearchers predict massive coral bleaching and death, the released stated.Cauliflower coral coverage around Hawaii declined by 36 percent from 1999 to2012, and current conditions are expected to worsen that decline.

“Cauliflower coral is like the canary in the coal mine of our warming oceans.Marine life around Hawaii will suffer without bold actions to protect coralreefs,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawaii director. “Hawaii’s coralreefs are dying and they need our help. Letting colorful corals bleach whiteand die indicates an ocean becoming less bountiful and biodiverse.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Hawaii, challenges theNational Marine Fisheries Service’s failure to act on a petition to protectcauliflower coral under the Endangered Species Act. The Fisheries Service saidlast year listing may be warranted, but failed to follow up, prompting theCenter to issue a notice letter in May.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday it can’tcomment on pending litigation.

Cauliflower corals are a major reef-building coral, protecting Hawaii’sshorelines and providing habitat for fish and crabs.

While protecting corals ultimately requires reducing global temperatureincreases by cutting fossil fuel emissions, cauliflower coral is alsothreatened by land-based pollution, sedimentation and physical disturbances byhumans. An Endangered Species Act listing could help minimize and mitigatethose threats, the suit says. Federally permitted projects with significantgreenhouse gas emissions should also mitigate impacts to listed corals.

An earlier coral listing petition, filed by the Center in 2006, resulted inthe protection of elkhorn and staghorn corals, which became the first speciesever protected under the Act because of the threat of global warming. Peoplecan still swim, surf, snorkel, fish and enjoy the ocean and coral reefs.Listing only prohibits people from harming or injuring protected corals.

“Cauliflower coral is called ko’a in Hawaiian,” Phillips said. “We want toprotect it, but we need federal help. Healthy coral reefs are the foundationof healthy oceans.”

Image: Cauliflower coral is pictured. (Photo by Mark Sullivan/USFWS)

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