NMFS extends comment period for setting critical habitat for Pacific corals



The National Marine Fisheries Service has extended the comment period for its proposal to designate critical habitat for seven Indo-Pacific corals listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and found within U.S. waters.


The end of the public comment period has been extended from Feb. 25 to March 27.


The seven species are Acropora globiceps, A. jacquelineae, A. retusa, A. speciosa, Euphyllia paradivisa, Isopora crateriformis, and Seriatopora aculeata. They are found within the waters of Guam, the CNMI, American Samoa and the Pacific Remote Island Area.


According to NMFS, the proposed coral critical habitat “consists of substrate and water column habitat characteristics essential for the reproduction, recruitment, growth, and maturation of the listed corals.”


It consists of 17 separate units: four units in American Samoa (Tutuila, Ofu-Olosega, Ta`u, Rose Atoll); seven in CNMI (Rota, Aguijan, Tinian, Saipan, Anatahan, Pagan, and Maug Islands); five in the PRIA (Howland, Palmyra, Kingman, Johnston, and Jarvis Islands); and one unit encompassing all proposed designations in Guam.


Certain areas are either ineligible for proposed critical habitat or excluded because of national security impacts, according to NMFS. These spots include a complex of overlapping Navy surface danger zones off of Ritidian Point and parts of Tinian om Guam; and a group of six Navy anchorage berths on Garapan Bank in Saipan; all of Farallon de Medinilla; and all of Wake Atoll.


The original public comment period for the proposed rule was scheduled to close on Jan. 26.


“In response to public input, we extended the public comment period by 30 days to Feb. 25, 2021, and held two online public hearings on Jan. 19 and Jan. 21, 2021.


At the public hearings, we received several requests to again extend the public comment period, to allow the public to adequately review the extensive supporting materials for the proposed rule in order to formulate public comments.


“Similarly, on Jan. 26, 2021, we received a letter from the Governors of CNMI, Guam, and American Samoa requesting extension of the public comment period for the same reason. In response, we are extending the public comment period by another 30 days,” NMFS said.

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