The Endangered Species Act: Protecting Marine Resources

Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on December 28, 1973, recognizing that the natural heritage of the United States was of "aesthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people." It was understood that, without protection, many of our nation’s living resources would become extinct.

The purpose of the ESA is to conserve threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems. There are more than 1,900 species listed under the ESA. A species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A species is considered threatened if it is likely to become endangered in the future. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and NOAA Fisheries share responsibility for implementing the ESA. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for 87 marine species, from whales to sea turtles and salmon to Johnson’s sea grass.

Protection, Conservation, and Recovery

The listing of a species as endangered makes it illegal to "take" (harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to do these things) that species. Similar prohibitions usually extend to threatened species. Federal agencies may be allowed limited take of species through interagency consultations with NOAA Fisheries or USFWS. Non-federal individuals, agencies, or organizations may have limited take through special permits with conservation plans. Effects to the listed species must be minimized and in some cases conservation efforts are required to offset the take. NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement works with the U.S. Coast Guard and other partners to enforce and prosecute ESA violations.

We conserve and recover marine resources by:

Why Save Endangered Marine Species?

Although occasional extinction of species is natural, extinctions are currently occurring at a rate that is unprecedented in human history. Each plant, animal, and their physical environment is part of an ecosystem and part of a much more complex web of life. Because of this, the extinction of a single species can cause a series of negative events to occur that affect many other species. Endangered species also serve as “sentinel” species to indicate larger ecological problems that could affect the functioning of the ecosystem and likely humans as well. As importantly, species diversity is part of the natural legacy we leave for future generations. The wide variety of species on land and in our oceans has provided inspiration, beauty, solace, food, livelihood, medicines and other products for previous generations. The ESA is a mechanism to help guide conservation efforts, and to remind us that our children deserve the opportunity to enjoy the same natural world we experience. Most of the problems in the current health of our environment are caused by people. However, people can also positively affect changes in our ecosystems and help endangered species recover by learning about the issues and changing behaviors. You can make a difference. Learn more