Two Florida Plants Threatened by Sea-level Rise Proposed for 7,855 Acres of Endangered Species Habitat Protection

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— As part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed critical habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act today for two Florida plants threatened by sea-level rise.  Most populations of the aboriginal prickly apple and Florida semaphore cactus are at, or just above, mean sea level. The plants were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2013 as the result of a Center petition and lawsuit.

“These native plants are being squeezed out of existence — pressed between coastal development and rising sea levels,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director and Center attorney. “Habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act will not only save them from extinction but help to spur South Florida’s planning for the rising seas that threaten life as we know it on our coasts.”

The Service is proposing 4,411 acres for the Florida semaphore cactus in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, and 3,444 acres for the aboriginal prickly apple in Manatee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties. Once finalized next year, the designation of critical habitat will require federal agencies to consult with the Service to ensure that any federally funded or permitted actions will not damage or destroy the plants’ critical habitat.

The aboriginal prickly apple lives in coastal strand vegetation communities and tropical coastal hammocks. Most of the 12 coastal sites would likely be wiped out by sea-level rise. The Florida semaphore cactus is found naturally in Biscayne National Park and on Little Torch Key. Sea-level rise may already be contributing to this plant’s decline as rising seas increase soil salinity in its buttonwood forests and rockland hammocks.

In January 2014 the Service finalized 10,968 acres habitat protection for another endangered Florida plant petitioned by the Center and threatened by sea-level rise, the Cape Sable thoroughwort.

We must take rapid action to combat climate change because these rare plants, many others, and our way of life as Floridians are all severely threatened by sea-level rise,” said Lopez.

If worst-case sea-level rise projections become a reality, much of these plants’ habitat will be inundated. In order to survive, the plants will likely need to be reintroduced to suitable higher-elevation sites outside their historical ranges, and scientists predict that they will likely escape extinction only if emissions are reduced and the worst sea-level rise predictions are not realized.

The critical habitat protections are part of a historic settlement agreement, signed with the Center in 2011, which requires expedited decisions on protection for 757 species around the country.

For more information about the aboriginal prickly apple and Florida semaphore cactus, go to this link: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/plants/Florida_plants/index.html.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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