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Scientific Research and Enhancement Permits for Endangered Corals


NOAA Fisheries has proposed to list 66 coral species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)--54 as "threatened" and 12 as "endangered." In addition, NOAA Fisheries proposed to reclassify two Caribbean species [elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (A. cervicornis) corals] from threatened to endangered.

Section 9 of the ESA prohibits "take" of endangered species, including commerce, import, and export. However, Section 10(a)(1)(A) authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to permit activities to conduct scientific research or to enhance the propagation and survival of endangered species.

What does the listing mean?

Scientific research and enhancement activities involving take, import, or export of coral species that are listed as endangered in the final listing determination would require an ESA Section 10(a)(1)(A) permit issued by NOAA Fisheries. Species that are determined to be threatened would not require a permit at this time.

A final listing determination is expected in June 2014. However, keep in mind that the listing is not final and the species and activities could change at the time of the final listing. If you want to conduct research or restoration activities on proposed endangered coral species, please consult the additional information below, including when you should apply.


Proposed Listing Timeline

Public comment period opened:
December 7, 2012

Public hearings:
January 15 - March 12, 2013

Public comment period closed:April 6, 2013

Final Rule will publish:
June 2014


Federal Register Notice of 6-month Extension of Final Rulemaking

Federal Register Proposed Rule (77 FR 73220)

Coral Permit Guidance [pdf]

Useful links

NMFS coral announcement

NMFS coral listing information

Southeast Regional Office's coral page

Pacific Islands Regional Office's coral page


elkhorn coral, underwater photoElkhorn Coral
(Acropora palmata)
Photo: NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Will I need an ESA 10(a)(1)(A) permit?

Note: The following information applies only to coral species proposed for listing as ENDANGERED. (What about coral species listed as threatened?)

Yes, if you will be:

(Please note that import or export of parts and samples will also require a CITES permit. For more information about CITES, please contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of Management Authority.)

Examples of research and enhancement activities that may require a Section 10(a)(1)(A) permit include:

A permit will be required for activities on all life stages of an endangered coral species, including gametes and live and dead parts.

What about nurseries, grow-out facilities, aquariums, zoos, and corals in captivity?

Maintenance and asexual propagation of endangered corals in a nursery would not require a permit. Additional activities such as experiments, transfer, or outplanting of captive animals will require a permit. Import or export may be authorized under a permit only for research or enhancement purposes.

An ESA permit cannot be issued to import, export, or take listed species for the purpose of public display. Public display may occur if it is incidental to a permitted scientific research or enhancement activity or if the specimens were legally held in captivity at the time of listing. Selling, receiving, transporting, or shipping listed species in interstate or foreign commerce is prohibited, even if the specimens were legally held in captivity at the time of listing.

For corals currently maintained, it is your responsibility to demonstrate that the animals were already in captivity before the final listing decision. Please contact us at 301-427-8401 for information on this process.

Mailing List

If you would like to be added to our mailing list, please send an email to: with "Subscribe" in the subject line.

What if I'm not sure if I need a permit?

You can contact the Office of Protected Resources at 301-427-8401 if you have questions.

When should I apply?

We have developed a Coral Permit Guidance Document [pdf] to help applicants navigate the permit process, realizing that the coral research and restoration community will be new to ESA permits. If you are interested in applying at this time, please sign up for our mailing list or give us a call (301-427-8401) to discuss your options.

We will continue to update our website as new information becomes available.

How long does the permit process take?

Typically, ESA 10(a)(1)(A) permits take about a year to process. Therefore, NOAA Fisheries is encouraging researchers to submit permit applications in advance of a listing determination to minimize gaps in ongoing research and restoration activities. To issue a permit, we need to verify that the research and/or enhancement activity is in compliance with the ESA and other applicable laws [e.g., National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)].

The following table shows the main steps and key time frames of the permit process. This timeline is an approximation only and the time of issuance for a given permit may vary.

Review of application for completeness30-90* days
NEPA determination and analysisat least 30-60 days
Federal Register public comment period30 days
Applicant responds to comments received60 days
ESA Section 7 consultation135 days
Finalize NEPA analysis and Permit Decision30-60 days

*If NOAA Fisheries requires information during the review or processing of an application, the information must be provided within 60 days or the application may be considered abandoned or withdrawn. Responding to information requests in a timely manner will help the process go faster.

How do I apply?

If some coral species are listed as endangered, you will need a permit issued by NOAA Fisheries to conduct research and enhancement activities on those species after the effective date of the rule. You do not need a permit to conduct research activities before the effective date of the rule.

Since the coral research and restoration community is new to ESA permits, we have developed a Coral Permit Guidance Document [pdf] to help applicants navigate the permit process.  Please use this document as you develop your permit application.

You will be able to submit your application:

Our mailing address is:

Permits and Conservation Division
Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries
1315 East-West Highway, Suite 13705
Silver Spring, MD 20910

How long can my ESA scientific research/enhancement permit be valid?

A permit can be issued for a maximum of 5 years.

What can I do if I am collaborating with other researchers?

There may be advantages for researchers to work together. In the interest of expediting permit processing, researchers are encouraged to collaborate with other researchers conducting related work by applying for a single permit together.

However, please note that a single person must be designated on the permit as the Responsible Party, an official who has the legal authority to bind the collaborating parties, organization, institution, or agency and who is ultimately responsible for all activities and individuals operating under the permit.

One researcher may then be listed as the Principal Investigator (PI) and additional researchers may be listed as Co-investigators (CIs) on the permit. The PI and CIs must be individuals who are qualified to supervise and conduct the activities.

A Section 10(a)(1)(A) permit does not cover issues such as data ownership, publication rights, etc. Separate agreements between the PI and CIs are encouraged to cover these questions.

What if I'm applying for a grant and they ask about my ESA permit?

Within your grant application, we recommend that you inform the granting agency of your intent to apply or the status of your application for a scientific research or enhancement permit. Conversely, if you are applying for a scientific research or enhancement permit but do not have current funding, in the application section “Resources Needed to Accomplish Objectives,” please identify any grants in process and when you expect to receive a decision.

What reports are required?

Once your permit is issued, you will be responsible for submitting the following types of reports:

Will I be able to make changes to my permit once it is issued?

Yes, the Permit Holder or Principal Investigator may request changes to the permit. Permit changes are classified as either major or minor modifications.

Extending the permit duration more than 12 months beyond the expiration date.Extending the permit duration for 12 months or less.
Increasing the number and/or species authorized to be taken or imported/exported.Changing the study objectives or hypotheses.
Changing the manner in which animals may be taken or imported/exported, if the proposed change may result in an increased level of take or risk of adverse impact.Changes in personnel.
Changing the location(s) in which animals may be taken, from which they may be imported, and to which they may be exported. 

Major modifications require the same processing steps as the original permit, including a 30-day public comment period, NEPA analysis, and Section 7 consultation. Therefore, major modifications may take up to the same amount of time to process as a new permit. Any other modification not identified above as a major modification is considered a Minor modification. We suggest contacting your permit analyst to discuss your permitting options.

What about coral species listed as threatened?

At this time, a Section 10(a)(1)(A) permit would not be required for research or enhancement activities on threatened species upon listing. After the final listing, NOAA Fisheries will determine whether any ESA take prohibitions would be extended to threatened coral species through a separate rulemaking process. Please be aware that you may need other permits from federal, state, or local agencies for these species.

Updated: September 19, 2013