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Laws and Regulations About Coral Reefs

Laws around the world concerning coral reefs

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)[1]


CITES was first formed in the 1960s under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is an international agreement between governments to ensure the international trade of animals and species does not harm said animal and species. It was created in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN (The World Conservation Union). Agreed upon by 80 countries in Washington, D.C., and the United States of America, on 3 March 1973, and on 1 July 1975 CITES was mandated. The original convention translated CITES into many languages of the prospective countries, each abiding by the same rules.

Regulation on Trade

Trade can include the plants and animals themselves or anything derived from said plant or animal. The importance of this agreement is to safeguard the environments and ecosystems that these plants and animals come from for future use. Because trade crosses many boundaries, international cooperation is required to make sure trade agreements are being kept. Today CITES covers 30,000 plants and animal species, whether in true form or in medicines or fur coats.


Amendments cover the trade of endangered species as well as import and export permits for them. It also covers specific shipping methods allowed as well as specific shipping permits used.

International Coral Reef Initiative 1994 (ICRI) [2]


The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) is a partnership among international governments and NGOs. It was first implemented at the First Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity on December 1994, along with being mentioned at the Intersessional Meeting of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development on April 1995. The ICRI is supported by the United Nations as well as Australia, France, Japan, Jamaica, the Philippines, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The ICRI has also founded an ICRI Executive Planning Committee (EPC) to oversee the development/review of workshop agendas and ICRI products and to provide guidance and feedback on these projects.

  • Governments and international organizations strengthening commitment to and implementation of programs at the local, national, regional, and international levels to conserve, restore and promote sustainable use of coral reefs and associated environments
  • Each country and region incorporating into existing local, regional, and national development plans, management provisions for protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the structure, processes and biodiversity of coral reefs and associated environments
  • Strengthening capacity for development and implementation of policies, management, research, and monitoring of coral reefs and associated environments
  • Establishing and maintaining coordination of international, regional and national research and monitoring programs, including the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, in association with the Global Ocean Observing System, to ensure efficient use of scarce resources and a flow of information relevant to management of coral reefs and associated environments
Key topics of interest under the ICRI
  • Alien Invasive Species, Climate Change and Coral Reefs, Cold Water Coral Reefs, Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA), Coral Disease, Coral Reef Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), Coral Reef Economic Valuation, International Conventions and Coral Reefs, Mangroves, Marine Protected Areas, Monitoring, Reef Fisheries,Trade, Tsunamis, World Heritage Programme

The ICRI holds trainings and workshops which provide a forum for governments, NGOS, donors, governmental agencies, and the research community to work together to develop a comprehensive framework for achieving the sustainable management of coral reefs

Wildlife Protection Act of 2010 [3]

Map of reefs surrounding coast of India (click to enlarge).

The Wildlife Protection Act of 2010 refers to a package of legislation enforced by by the Government of India in 1972. This act established specific protected plants and animals, with hunting and collecting of these specific animals mainly outlawed. This act also provides protection of wild animals and plants. This act covers the whole of India, excluding the State of Jammu and Kashmir, both having their own wildlife acts. Schedule I and II of the act provide absolute protection of the species. Schedule III and IV provide penalties for those that break the act. Schedule VI prohibits cultivation and planting of wild species.

  • Under the act, hunting of any wild animal specified by the specific schedules I, II, III, and IV are prohibited.
  • If the killing of a wounded animal is in good faith or in protection of oneself the person shall not be an offense.
  • If any animal is killed or wounded in defense of a person it shall become government property.
  • One is only allowed a permit to hunt or collect wildlife if it is for education, scientific research, or scientific management.
  • At any time, the Chief Wildlife Warden or the officer may revoke one's license if they deem it necessary.

After this act was declared, every person having control, custody, or possession of any captive animal or plant must declare to the Chief Wildlife Warden or an authorized officer the number and description of the animal or plant, and where they took possession of the animal or plant. If the Chief Wildlife Warden sees fit, they may issue a certificate of ownership to said party that they deem is in lawful possession of the animal or plant in question.


Penalties can be enforced by the Forest Department, the Police, the Central Bureau of Investigation, or customs. Any person that goes against these laws set forth may be convicted and imprisoned for a term up to three years or a fine up to twenty-five thousand rupees. If the punisher sees fit, they may be punished with both. If Schedule I or Part 11 of Schedule II is broken, the person may be convicted up to six years in prison or five thousand rupees. Any person that breaks Chapter VA can be punished up to seven years in jail with a fine of five thousand rupees. Any person that breaks Section 38J of the act may be imprisoned up to six months with a two thousand rupee fine. The least substantial punishment is the revocation of ones license.

United States laws concerning coral reefs [4]

Endangered Species Act [5]

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was signed into law on December 28th under the presidency of Richard Nixon. Nixon declared that conservation efforts in the U.S. aimed at preventing the extinction of species were inadequate and that a new act needed to be made. He called the 93rd Congress to develop comprehensive endangered species legislation. Hence, the Endangered Species Act was born. Its purpose is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend on. It is administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Fish and Wildlife Service is primarily in charge of terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of marine wildlife such as whales and anadromous (migratory) fish.

Preventing Extinction

Both the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are required to create an Endangered Species Recovery Plan outlining goals, tasks, costs, and estimated timelines for the recovery of endangered species. The FWS has a policy of their plan being completed within three years of it being set, while the NMS does not have a specific timeline.

Listing Process

Under the ESA, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. If listed as endangered, the species in question is in danger of extinction throughout all of its life. If listed as threatened, the species is likely to become endangered within the near future. All species of plants and animals, excluding pest insects, are eligible for listing on the endangered or threatened lists. Under the ESA, species included subspecies, varieties and distinct population segments.

What is a critical habitat?

After a species living in a habitat is endangered or threatened, the area it lives in may be designated a critical habitat if it is critical to its survival. The ESA decides what constitutes as a critical habitat or not. Even though a site may be designated a critical habitat, it does not mean that it can no longer be developed on or can still be used for recreational activities.


There are different degrees of offense for breaking laws under the Endangered Species Act. The most punishable offenses are trafficking and any act of knowingly taking away an endangered species from its natural habitat. Fines can go up to $50,000 or imprisonment up to one year, while civil penalties are up to $25,000 per violation of the law. Penalties may not be executed, though, if they were proven to be broken under self defense. Licenses may also be revoked as punishment.

Proposed Endangered Species List of Coral Reefs
Elkhorn coral is on the proposed endangered species list.
  • Boulder star coral (Montastraea annularis)
  • Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) *
  • Mountainous star coral (Montastraea faveolata)
  • Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus)
  • Rough Cactus Coral (Mycetophyllia ferox)
  • Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) *
  • Star coral (Montastraea franksi)
  • Acropora jacquelineae
  • Acropora lokani
  • Acropora rudis
  • Anacropora spinosa
  • Euphyllia paradivisa
  • Millepora foveolata
  • Pocillopora elegans - E Pacific*
Proposed Threatened Species of Coral Reefs
  • Lamarck's Sheet Coral (Agaricia lamarcki)
  • Elliptical Star Coral (Dichocoenia stokesii)
  • Acanthastrea brevis
  • Acanthastrea hemprichii
  • Acanthastrea ishigakiensis
  • Acanthastrea regularis
  • Acropora aculeus
  • Acropora acuminate
  • Acropora aspera
  • Acropora dendrum
  • Acropora donei
  • Acropora globiceps
  • Acropora horrida
  • Acropora listeria
  • Acropora microclados
  • Acropora palmerae
  • Acropora paniculata
  • Acropora pharaonis
  • Acropora polystoma
  • Acropora retusa
  • Acropora speciosa
  • Acropora striata
  • Acropora tenella
  • Acropora vaughani
  • Acropora verweyi
  • Alveopora allingi
  • Alveopora fenestrate
  • Alveopora verrilliana
  • Anacropora puertogalerae
  • Astreopora cucullata
  • Barabattoia laddi
  • Caulastrea echinulata
  • Euphyllia cristata
  • Euphyllia paraancora
  • Isopora crateriformis
  • Isopora cuneata
  • Millepora tuberosa
  • Montipora angulate
  • Montipora australiensis
  • Montipora calcarea
  • Montipora caliculata
  • Montipora dilatata/ flabellata/ turgescens
  • Montipora lobulata
  • Montipora patula/ verrilli
  • Pachyseris rugosa
  • Pavona diffluens
  • Pectinia alcicornis
  • Physogyra lichtensteini
  • Pocillopora danae
  • Pocillopora elegans - Indo-Pacific
  • Porites horizontalata
  • Porites napopora
  • Porites nigrescens
  • Seriatopora aculeate brevis

Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 (CRCA) [6]

CRCA was established for the purposes of preserving and restoring coral reef ecosystems, promoting wise management and gaining better scientific information on the current condition of and threats to coral reefs. To serve these purposes, the act established four programs: the National Coral Reef Action Strategy, the Coral Reef Conservation Program, the Coral Reef Conservation Fund and the National Program.

The National Coral Reef Action Strategy was developed to establish goals for research, monitoring and conservation, as well as addressing national and regional issues concerning coral reefs.

The Coral Reef Conservation Program and Coral Reef Conservation Fund each finance research and conservation projects. The Conservation Program authorizes funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Secretary of Commerce and the Conservation Fund authorizes NOAA to provide funding to non-profit organizations for projects concerning coral reefs. By contrast, the Conservation Fund deals directly with non-profit groups to provide funding.

The National Program assesses the conservation of coral reefs through monitoring and restoring damage. It also works to raise public awareness of problems and conservation efforts through educational programs. The program facilitates the cooperation of federal, state, and regional efforts that work to improve the same reefs.

National Marine Sanctuary Act (NMSA) [7]

Map of US National Marine Sanctuaries (click to enlarge).

NMSA was first passed into law in 1972. The main purpose of the act is to protect marine resources, especially unique habitats and coral reefs. NMSA authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate certain areas of US marine territory as national sanctuaries. To be designated as a sanctuary, the area must have a national significance due to conservation efforts and ecological, historical, educational, and scientific purposes. Daily management of the national marine sanctuaries is headed by the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

NMSA provides several tools for protecting already designated national marine sanctuaries. It provides the program with authority to issue regulations for the system as a whole and for individual sanctuaries. These regulations can specify what kinds of activities are permissible or impermissible within a given area [section 308]. It authorizes the NOAA and regional program to issue civil penalties for violations of NMSA and for damaging sanctuary resources [sections 306, 307, 312]. Finally, the NMSA requires federal agencies whose actions may harm sanctuaries to consult with the regional program before taking any action [section 304]

Since its passing in 1972, Congress has amended and reauthorized NMSA in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000. Among other things, the amendments to the NMSA over the years have modified the process of how sites are designated, given the Secretary of Commerce the authority to issue special use permits, enhanced the ability to enforce the Act, and established civil liability for injury to sanctuary resources. The 2000 revision authorized funds through the end of fiscal year 2005, and more importantly gave President Clinton the authority to establish a Northwestern Hawaiin Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, which he did by executive order on December 4, 2000. [8]

Coral Reef Task Force [9]

The United States Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF, or CTRF) was established in 1998 by a presidential Executive Order from Clinton with the purpose of leading US efforts to preserve and protect coral reef ecosystem. They work in cooperation with state and local government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and leaders in coral reef research to further the understanding of coral reefs so we can better protect them. During the creation of the CRTF, 13 goals were outlined in two major themes,as follows:

Theme 1: Understand Coral Reef Ecosystems
  • Goal 1: Create comprehensive maps of all U.S. coral reef habitat.
  • Goal 2: Conduct long-term monitoring and assessments of reef ecosystem conditions.
  • Goal 3: Support strategic research to address the major threats to reef ecosystems.
  • Goal 4: Increase understanding of the social and economic factors of conserving coral reefs.
Theme 2: Reduce the Adverse Impacts of Human Activities
  • Goal 5: Improve the use of marine protected areas to reduce threats.
  • Goal 6: Reduce adverse impacts of fishing and other extractive uses.
  • Goal 7: Reduce impacts of coastal uses.
  • Goal 8: Reduce pollution.
  • Goal 9: Restore damaged reefs.
  • Goal 10: Improve education and outreach.
  • Goal 11: Reduce threats to coral reef ecosystems internationally.
  • Goal 12: Reduce impacts from international trade in coral reef species.
  • Goal 13: Improve coordination and accountability.

CRTF members meet biannually to discuss key issues, propose new strategies for action, present progress reports on the above goals, and update the coral community on past accomplishments and future plans. The most recent meeting was in February 2013. In addition to these biannual meetings, the Steering Committee - made up of representatives from each of the participating Federal agencies, states, and territories - meets monthly to discuss progress on current CRTF initiatives and plan new areas for future work.

Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) [10]

Overfishing has been a drastic problem for coral reefs. [11] The MSA was enacted to promote smart use of ocean resources in US fishing industries. It was originally enacted as the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, but since has been revised and renamed. The seven main purposes from the 2007 reauthorization are outlined as follows:

  • Act to conserve fishery resources
  • Support enforcement of international fishing agencies
  • Promote the use of conservation principles in line with fishing industries
  • Provide for the implementation of fishery management plans that strive for optimal yield while keeping in mind conservation practices
  • Established Regional Fishery Management Councils to assist fisheries with the development and revising of plans considering the economic needs of their region
  • Develop underutilized fisheries
  • Protect essential fish habitats.

In addition to these purposes, the law calls for reducing bycatch and establishing fishery information monitoring systems. To monitor the fisheries, Regional Fishery Management Councils were created to develop and implement management plans to manage healthy stocks and restore depleted ones. A few important regulations they implement are annual catch limits (ACLs) for all stocks that are subject to overfishing, designating zones and time periods where fishing is limited or not allowed, and regulating certain kinds or fishing equipment and vessels.

Reefs offshore of the counties included in the SEFCRI (click to enlarge).
Reefs offshore of the counties included in the SEFCRI (click to enlarge).

Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative [12]

In their 2000 meeting, the CRTF adopted a "National Action Plan" to conserve coral reefs through guidance of specific regional areas. As an example of the effectiveness of the plan, we can look at its local implementation. The Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative was established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission under the guidance of the CRTF in May 2003. The SEFCRI team consists of inter-agency and non-agency marine resource professionals, scientists, and stakeholders. Since then, they have developed local action strategies to target coral reefs and their resources, specifying within Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties. This region was targeted for protection because the reefs are so close to shore containing highly urbanized areas with no previous management plan. Educating the citizens of these areas and creating an effective management has been essential to keeping the reefs safe.


  1. "What is CITES?" CITES. Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
  2. Drake, Susan F. "The International Coral Reef Initiative: A Strategy for the Sustainable Management of Coral Reefs and Related Ecosystems." Coastal Management. 4th ed. Vol. 24. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis, 1973. 279-99. Print. Ser. 1996.
  4. "US Environmental Protection Agency." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013. [1]
  5. "Endangered Species Act (ESA)." N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
  6. United States. Environmental Protection Agency. Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000. Washington D.C.: 2000. Print.
  7. United States. Environmental Protection Agency. National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Washington D.C.: , 2010. Print
  9. "About the Coral Reef Task Force." United States Coral Reef Task Force. National Ocean Service, 04 May 2010. Web. 16 Apr 2013.
  10. United States. Cong. Senate. Department of Commerce. Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. S. Doc. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  11. Craig, Robin Kundis. "Coral Reefs, Fishing, And Tourism: Tensions In U.S. Ocean Law And Policy Reform." Stanford Environmental Law Journal27.1 (2008): 3-41. Environment Complete. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.
  12. "History of the SEFCRI." The Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative. The Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative, n.d. Web. 16 Apr 2013.
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