By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The proposed designation would cover Guam, and atolls surrounding the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Pacific Remote Islands Area.
According to NOAA, the covered areas contain habitat characteristics where Acropora globiceps, A. retusa, A. speciosa, Euphyllia paradivisa, and Isopora crateriformis reproduce, disperse, settle and mature.
“Pacific coral reefs play an important role in shoreline protection, while also supporting the local economy and serving as biodiverse ecosystems,” said Dawn Golden, assistant regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office.
“Despite facing threats — including temperature rise and pollution — designating critical habitat aims to minimize the impacts of these threats and promote coral resilience," she added.
The following sites are proposed to be designated as critical habitat:
American Samoa: Ofu-Olosega, Tutuila and Ta`u in the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Rose Atoll in the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa
The Northern Mariana Islands: Rota, Aguijan, Tinian, Saipan, Alamagan, Pagan and Maug Islands and Uracas in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: Lalo (French Frigate Shoals) in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
Pacific Remote Islands Area: Palmyra and Johnston Atolls in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument
NOAA said the designation would not create any new regulations or restrictions on fisheries that only federal agencies are directly affected by a critical habitat designation. Non-federal entities may be affected only if their activities involve federal funding, permitting or authorization.
The proposed rule would refine an earlier proposal in 2020 for Endangered Species Act-listed Indo-Pacific coral species following the inclusion of new data and information received from the community during the previous public comment period.
The changes include the removal of two species and four islands for consideration, the addition of three islands and more specific mapping of critical habitat.
"The depth range of the proposed critical habitat depends on the occurrence of specific coral species with a minimum range of 0–10 m (0–33 ft) and a maximum range of 0–50 m (0–164 ft)," the proposed rule reads.
Golden said the new proposal "is a reflection of their valuable data and input throughout this process.".