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Group to mend void in sea life protection

– A conservation group will ask the federal government Monday to list 81 additional marine species under the Endangered Species Act, seeking to protect sharks, corals and other sea life and begin correcting what it considers a bias toward safeguarding terrestrial creatures.

Of the 1,475 U.S. species protected by the landmark 40-year-old law, only 94 live in the oceans. The conservation group WildEarth Guardians contends there is no scientific basis for that disparity.

“It’s just an historic imbalance that needs to be righted,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for the organization, which is based in Santa Fe, N.M.

With most efforts to protect species started by groups and individuals, the overwhelming majority of species listed have been the ones people can see – land- and river-based wildlife, Cotton said. The marine exceptions to that have been “really charismatic megafauna,” such as whales and dolphins, Cotton said.

Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University in New York state, said: “People have had this idea for way too long that the seas are so vast and limitless that nothing we could ever do could hurt them. It’s hard to shake that.”

WildEarth Guardians cited the basking shark, the blackchin guitarfish and tiny corals among the 75 populations it says are most imperiled.

“Our oceans and the species that call them home are facing unprecedented threats from fishing, ocean acidification, pollution from toxic runoff and dumping of waste at sea,” Cotton said. “Our petition seeks legal protections for 81 of the most imperiled marine species.”

In an email, Connie Barclay, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service, said the agency’s endangered species team had not seen the petition from WildEarth Guardians and could not comment.