For Immediate Release, September 1, 2020
Florida, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands Nearshore Waters Need Safeguards
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Conservation groups sued the federal government today for failing to protect the nearshore habitat of the Nassau grouper, which faces threats from pollution and climate change impacts such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification.
“Protected habitat will help set these fish on the path to recovery, but the federal government has stalled this designation for years. We need the courts to intervene,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Safeguarding grouper habitat is essential for its survival and it’ll also benefit many other South Florida and Caribbean species.”
The lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service was filed today in federal district court in Washington D.C. The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as species without it.
The Nassau grouper used to be one of the most common groupers in the United States, but overfishing contributed to a 60% population decline in recent years. In 2016 the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration listed the grouper as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in response to a scientific petition from WildEarth Guardians.
“To paraphrase ‘Finding Nemo,’ these fish are friends, not food,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Nassau groupers are playful, intelligent creatures that need the protections critical habitat designation provides.”
The Nassau grouper is native to South Florida and the Caribbean, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Poor water quality and increased sedimentation due to land-development practices threaten both coral and macroalgae that are important resources during the grouper’s various life stages. Coral reefs are also acutely threatened by climate change impacts like sea-level rise and ocean acidification.
“Nassau groupers depend on their coral reef habitat to survive," said Rachel Silverstein, Executive director and Waterkeeper at Miami Waterkeeper. “Failing to designate the Nassau groupers' critical habitat, as required by the Endangered Species Act, leaves even fewer protections for our already rapidly disappearing coral reefs.”