U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in The Endangered Species Act at Thirty, Volume 1: Renewing The Conservation Promise, edited by Dale D. Goble, J. Michael Scott, & Frank W. Davis (Washington: Island Press, 2006), pp. 36-44.


The 4.1 million square miles of ocean inside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone around the United States surpasses the 3.6 million square miles total land area within federal jurisdiction (Lindholm and Barr 2001). The coastal oceans contain a great diversity of habitat types and ecosystems. These habitats are associated with particular substrate features such as coral reefs, sea grass beds, rocky shores and soft-bottom habitats, and also with persistent oceanographic features such as frontal convergence zones and upwelling regions.

Our marine ecosystems contain unique and rich biotas. At higher taxonomie levels, biodiversity is much richer in the marine environment than it is on land or in freshwater. For example, thirty-six out of thirty-seven animal phyla are represented in the sea (Groombridge and Jenkins 2002), and 64 percent of animal phyla are found exclusively there, whereas only 3 percent are confined to land and none are exclusive to freshwater (May 1994; Reaka-Kudla 1997). Marine ecosystems appear relatively less diverse at the species levelroughly 15 percent of all described species are marine (Reaka-Kudla 1997).

Consistent national accounting of marine ecosystems is constrained by a lack of data, but the available indicators are worrying. As of 2002, of 237 domestic stocks managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) whose current status are known, 86 are overfished and overfishing continues for 66 stocks (NMFS 2003). The overfished status of the remaining 695 managed stocks, which are mosdy of lesser commercial importance, is unknown (NMFS 2003). T wo comprehensive national reviews of the state of marine ecosystems, the first in over thirty years, report that marine ecosystems are "in crisis" (Pew Oceans Commission 2003) and "in trouble" (U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy 2002.

In this chapter, we review the role of the Endangered Species Act in protecting endangered marine species. Although our main focus is on those populations whose ranges fall primarily within the exclusive economic zone, we include both U.S. and foreign listed species in our analyses. EIsewhere (Armsworrh et al., forrhcoming), we review threats and conservation strategies for endangered marine species.