Draft Recovery Plan for Two Coral Species Addresses Offshore Oil & Gas

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has announced that it is seeking comments by Monday, October 20 on a draft recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn coral, both of which have been listed as threatened since 2006.

The draft recovery plan notes that “there are likely” few areas where elkhorn and staghorn corals may possibly occur farther than 12 nautical miles from land, adding that potential oil drilling-related threats to these corals and their habitats emanate from spills and dumping of heavy metal, drilling muds, and toxic chemicals.

According to the announcement, the draft recovery plan seeks to rebuild and assure the long-term viability of elkhorn and staghorn coral populations in the wild.  It adds that potential spills in the Gulf of Mexico and oil exploration offshore northern Cuba could impact listed corals in Florida were a spill to become entrenched in the Florida Current, with the threat posed to listed corals from oil and gas activity ranked as low for the region (slightly higher threat is assigned for Florida because of its proximity to the Florida Current and “anticipated drilling activity”).

The draft recovery plan concludes that “[b]ased on current levels of understanding and management regimes,” offshore oil and gas exploration “does not contribute to the status of the species and will not likely impede [their] recovery…”