Once the most abundant and important reef-building corals in Florida and the Caribbean, elkhorn corals have declined by more than 90 percent in many areas, mainly as a result of disease and “bleaching. ”
Threats related to Global Warming
The rising temperature of the ocean as a result of global warming is the single greatest threat to this coral species, as well as coral reefs more generally worldwide. When corals are stressed by warm ocean temperatures, they experience bleaching – which means they expel the colorful algae upon which they rely for energy and growth. Many corals die or succumb to disease after bleaching.
Mass bleaching events have become much more frequent and severe as ocean temperatures have risen in recent decades. Scientists predict that most of the world’s corals will be subjected to mass bleaching events at deadly frequencies within 20 years on our current emissions path.
A related threat, ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide, impairs the ability of corals to build their protective skeletons. Scientists have predicted that most of the world’s coral reefs will disappear by mid-century due to global warming and ocean acidification unless carbon dioxide pollution is rapidly reduced.
The Center for Biological Diversity is working to conserve elkhorn and other corals by leveraging the power of the Endangered Species Act to ensure that these vulnerable and magnificent coral reef ecosystems are protected. In direct response to the Center’s work in 2006, elkhorn and staghorn corals, became the first, and to date only, coral species protected under the Endangered Species Act–marking the first time the U.S. government acknowledged global warming as a primary threat to the survival of a species.
In October 2009, the Center launched an effort to gain endangered listing for 83 additional corals.