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January 5, 2011

New Report: It’s Getting Hot Out There

Every year the Endangered Species Coalition creates a report that focuses on 10 species facing extinction that are currently listed or being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

This year’s report, It’s Getting Hot Out There: Top Ten Places to Save for Endangered Species, focuses on critical habitats that support endangered species and are themselves threatened by climate change. Shallow water coral reefs and Arctic sea ice, two important habitats that Oceana works hard to protect, were selected as two of the top 10 most important habitats to protect.

Oceana nominated shallow water coral reefs as a habitat that is important to save from the threats caused by human-produced carbon dioxide emissions: climate change and ocean acidification.

Coral reefs are vulnerable to both rising sea surface temperatures and rising ocean acidity. Ocean acidification exacerbates the consequences of climate change by preventing corals from building their protective skeletons, and rising temperature can lead to coral bleaching events, resulting in coral death. The combined threats of rising acidity and temperature may result in coral reefs eroding globally by the middle of this century.

Shallow water coral reefs were selected as a top 10 critical habitat in part because they are home to about a quarter of all life in the oceans; they are considered the rainforests of the sea due to their high levels of biodiversity.

Coral reefs serve as shelters, nurseries and feeding grounds to many endangered species, such as giant sea bass, totoaba, plain goby, Warsaw grouper, and strawberry grouper. Many more endangered predators also find their prey on coral reefs, and unfortunately some coral species are already listed as critically endangered, such as Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), and dozens more are being petitioned for listing.

The dual impacts of climate change and ocean acidification could disrupt these critical habitats that are important for entire marine ecosystems. The only way to stop both of these threats is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by transitioning to a cleaner alternative energy future.

The other marine or coastal ecosystems listed in the report that are critically threatened by climate change are Arctic sea ice, the bay delta, the gulf coast flatlands and wetlands and the greater everglades, confirming that it is of great importance to protect ocean habitats and the diversity of life they support.  Below is the full list of the Endangered Species Coalition’s top ten most imperiled habitats from climate change that support endangered species: 

  1. Arctic Sea Ice
  2. Shallow Water Coral Reefs
  3. The Hawaiian Islands
  4. Southwest Deserts
  5. The Bay Delta
  6. California Sierra Nevada Mountains
  7. The Snake River Basin
  8. Greater Yellowstone
  9. The Gulf Coast Flatlands and Wetlands
  10. The Greater Everglades


Matthew Huelsenbeck is an intern for Oceana’s climate change campaign.