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A Message from Sam Rauch, Head of NOAA Fisheries

Celebrating 40 Years of Recovering Threatened and Endangered Species
November 20, 2013

This December marks the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which President Nixon signed into law on December 28, 1973. Species diversity and ecosystem health are part of the natural legacy we leave for future generations, and the Act helps protect this legacy by guiding conservation of threatened and endangered species and their environment.

In its 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has had success—less than one percent of the species listed under the Act have become extinct. While we have recovered and delisted a small percentage of listed species since 1973, like the recently delisted Eastern Steller sea lion population, we would likely have seen hundreds of species go extinct without the Endangered Species Act. The ocean is a very different place than it was 40 years ago, though. We now understand many of the threats faced by marine and anadromous species and we are working with many partners to bring those threats under control. Aided by our recovery efforts and time, the populations of many listed species are increasing. Still, the populations of many species continue to decline and many more species are being listed.

The Act was designed to protect both species and their habitats, and we strive to make this vision a reality by using ecosystem approaches to management. That means keeping the big picture in mind and planning for environmental variability. Already we are seeing profound changes in ocean conditions associated with rising temperatures. In the Gulf of Maine for instance, the distribution and abundance of zooplankton is shifting in ways that will impact species up the food chain, including endangered North Atlantic right whales. Similar changes are occurring throughout the ocean, and we must monitor and predict these changes so that we can adapt to them quickly. Scientists at NOAA Fisheries are developing the next generation of ocean observing systems so that we can see what’s happening and adapt our management to respond to the challenges of a changing climate. We will continue developing new technologies and management approaches while working with national and international partners to ensure the Endangered Species Act remains effective in a rapidly-changing world.

All month long NOAA Fisheries will showcase the Endangered Species Act online. We will tell the recovery success stories, highlight what the Act has accomplished, and outline the challenges ahead. You can find these stories and more at You can also catch all this and more on Fisheries Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram.


Samuel D. Rauch III
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs,
performing the functions and duties of the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries