Endangered Species Conservation, NOAA Fisheries

Endangered Species Conservation


Endangered Species Conservation

NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the protection, conservation, and recovery of endangered and threatened marine and anadromous species under the Endangered Species Act. The ESA aims to conserve these species and the ecosystems they depend on. To implement the ESA, we work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations and private citizens.

Under the ESA, a species is considered:

  • Endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
  • Threatened if it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

Our Work Under the ESA

Our work to conserve and recover endangered and threatened marine species includes:

Providing grants to states (Section 6) and grants to tribes for species conservation.

Entering bilateral and multilateral agreements with other nations to encourage conservation of listed species (Section 8).

Investigating violations of the ESA (Section 9).

Cooperating with non-federal partners to develop conservation plans, safe harbor agreements, and c andidate conservation agreements with assurances for the long-term conservation of species (Section 10).

Issuing permits that authorize scientific research to learn more about listed species, or activities that enhance the propagation or survival of listed species (Section 10).

Designating experimental populations of listed species to further the conservation and recovery of those species (Section 10).

ESA By the Numbers

NOAA Fisheries has jurisdiction over 165 endangered and threatened marine species, including 66 foreign species.

Additional species are currently under review or have been proposed for ESA listing:

3 petitioned species awaiting a 90-day finding.

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Notices & Rules

90-Day Finding on a Petition To List Oregon Coast Spring-Run Chinook Salmon as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act

5-Year Review of North Pacific Distinct Population Segment of Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Initiation of a 5-Year Review for 3 Foreign Corals

Incidental Take Permit to Midwest Biodiversity Institute

5-Year Review for the Endangered Indus River Dolphin

Upcoming Events

2020 Marine Endangered Species Art Contest

Open Funding Opportunities

There are currently no open funding opportunities.

NOAA Fisheries and U.S. FWS share responsibility for administering the ESA

Generally, NOAA Fisheries manages marine species and anadromous species (fish that are born in freshwater, spend most of their lives in saltwater, and return to freshwater to spawn) including whales, corals, sea turtles, and salmon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages land and freshwater species such as polar bears, sea otters, and manatees.

Both U.S. species and foreign species are protected under the ESA

The Endangered Species Act requires listing of species regardless of where they are found. Endangered foreign species include the vaquita porpoise, Mediterranean monk seal, and Southern right whale.

Listing Species Under the ESA

Before an animal or plant species can receive ESA protections, it must first be added to the federal lists of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants. Once NOAA Fisheries determines that a species warrants listing, it adds the species to its lists at 50 CFR 223.102 (threatened species) and 50 CFR 224.101 (endangered species). All plant and animal species, except pest insects, are eligible for listing.

Monitoring Species Status

The conservation status of all species listed under the ESA must be reviewed at least once every 5 years. The review evaluates whether the endangered or threatened classification is still appropriate for the species. These 5-year reviews consider recent recovery progress and the level and impact of ongoing and new or future threats. They also incorporate any new information about the species.

Designating Critical Habitat

One of the main purposes of the ESA is to provide a means for conserving the ecosystems that threatened and endangered species depend upon for survival and recovery. Specific areas and areas that contain features that are essential for the conservation of an ESA-listed species may be designated as “critical habitat.” Once critical habitat is designated, federal agencies consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure their actions are not likely to destroy or adversely modify the critical habitat. Critical habitat does not affect land ownership or set up a refuge or closed area, and it does not restrict private citizens’ use of the area. Critical habitat also does not mandate government or public access to private lands.

Recovering Endangered and Threatened Species

Recovery is the process of restoring listed species and their ecosystems to the point where they no longer require ESA protections . To guide efforts to bring these species back to health, we develop recovery plans that outline the path and activities required to restore and secure self-sustaining wild populations. We collaborate with federal, state, and local governments, as well as tribal nations and interested nongovernmental stakeholders, to create these plans.

Our Partners

Conservation groups; academia; tribal nations; and federal, state, and local governments have all made important contributions to the recovery of many endangered and threatened species. We partner with these organizations in many ways to minimize harmful effects on listed species and work toward their recovery.

ESA Regulations, Policies, and Guidance

We have issued regulations, national policies, and guidance to promote efficiency and consistency in implementing the ESA to conserve and recover marine species.

Recovery of Endangered and Threatened Species

Learn how NOAA Fisheries works with partners to protect and recover endangered and threatened marine species.


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Conservation & Management

NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service share responsibility for implementing the Endangered Species Act, which is the primary way the federal government protects species in danger of extinction. The purpose of the act is to conserve endangered and threatened species and their ecosystems. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for endangered and threatened marine and anadromous species—from whales and seals to sharks, salmon, and corals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for terrestrial and freshwater species, but also has responsibility over several marine species like sea otters, manatees, and polar bears. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries also share jurisdiction over several other species such as sea turtles and Atlantic salmon.

Currently, NOAA Fisheries has jurisdiction over more than 160 endangered and threatened marine species under the ESA. Before an animal or plant species can receive the protections provided by the ESA, it must first be added to the federal lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. Once a species is listed, several requirements and prohibitions are triggered to provide for the species’ conservation. Marine mammals that are listed as endangered or threatened are also considered «depleted» under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Learn more about the ESA listing process.

An endangered listing prohibits the:

Import and export of the species.

Sale and/or offer to sell the species in interstate or foreign commerce.

Delivery, receipt, carriage, transport, or shipment of the species in (1) interstate or foreign commerce, and (2) the course of a commercial activity.

“Take” of the species (e.g., by harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting) within the United States, within U.S. territorial seas, or on the high seas.

These ESA prohibitions apply to all persons under U.S. jurisdiction, but permits may be issued to authorize specific prohibited activities. Learn more about endangered species permits.

For threatened species, we may issue regulations deemed necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species. These regulations can extend some, or all, of the prohibitions that apply to endangered species to threatened species.

The ESA also requires us to:

Designate critical habitat for the conservation of the species.

Consult on federal actions that may affect a listed species, or its designated critical habitat, to minimize possible adverse effects.

Develop and implement species recovery plans.

Learn more about these topics below.

Critical Habitat

One of the main purposes of the ESA is to provide a means for conserving the ecosystems that threatened and endangered species depend upon for survival and recovery. When a species is listed under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries must determine what areas meet the statutory definition of critical habitat:

Specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing that contain physical or biological features essential to conservation of the species, and that may require special management considerations or protection.

Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species if the agency determines they are essential for conservation of the species.

Critical habitat designations include areas or habitat features that support the life-history needs of the species, such as nursing, pupping or breeding sites, or foraging areas containing needed prey species. In other words, areas that are designated as critical habitat are necessary to support the species’ recovery.

Once critical habitat is designated, federal agencies are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure their actions are not likely to destroy or adversely modify the critical habitat.

Critical habitat is not a sanctuary, refuge, or closed-area. Critical habitat does not affect land ownership or restrict private citizens’ use of the area. Critical habitat also does not mandate government or public access to private lands.

Consulting on Federal Actions

The ESA directs all federal agencies to work to conserve endangered and threatened species. Section 7 of the ESA, titled «Interagency Cooperation,» requires that federal agency actions are not likely to jeopardize the existence of any ESA-listed species, or to destroy or adversely modify their critical habitat.

Under section 7, federal agencies must consult with NOAA Fisheries when any action they carry out, fund, or authorize (such as through a permit) may affect a listed species or their critical habitat. This process usually begins with the federal agency requesting an informal consultation with NOAA Fisheries in the early stages of project planning. During this consultation, we might discuss the types of listed species that live in the proposed action area and the effect the proposed action may have on those species.

Species Recovery Planning

Endangered and threatened species have different needs and may require different conservation strategies to achieve recovery. Recovery is the process of restoring listed species and their ecosystems to the point where they no longer require ESA protections. To recover a species, we work to:

Reduce or eliminate threats.

Restore or establish self-sustaining wild populations.

After a species has recovered, we:

Remove the species from the list because it has recovered to the point where they no longer need ESA protection—this is known as “delisting.”

Monitor the species status for no less than 5 years after delisting to ensure its recovery is sustained.

Conservation measures for endangered and threatened species may include conserving and restoring habitat, reducing entanglement or bycatch in fishing gear, preventing vessel strikes, and minimizing exposure to pollutants and chemical contaminants. Knowledge of the natural history of a species is essential to understanding its needs and developing effective and appropriate conservation measures.

Success Stories

The ESA has been successful in preventing species extinctions—less than 1 percent of the listed species have gone extinct. Although we have recovered and delisted only a small percentage of species since the ESA was enacted in 1973, hundreds of species would likely have gone extinct without the protections of the ESA.

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Science is critical to understanding the needs and status of protected species populations, as well as the threats to their health and well-being. Our scientific understanding of these topics helps us develop and implement recovery efforts for endangered and threatened species. Examples of our work include assessing and monitoring populations, researching disease agents (e.g., pathogens, parasites, and harmful algal blooms), and developing gear modifications to reduce entanglement and bycatch.

Population Assessments

We rely on population assessments to evaluate the status of the endangered and threatened species we manage under the Endangered Species Act. These assessments collect and analyze scientific information on a species’ population structure, life history characteristics and vital rates, abundance, and threats—particularly those caused by human activities.

Our scientists and resource managers develop population assessment reports to inform decisions related to a protected species’ listing status, federal or federally funded activities that may impact a species or its habitat, and acceptable bycatch levels. The reports also inform scientific research and incidental take permits issued to agencies, scientific and academic institutions, and industry. Finally, population assessments allow us to evaluate and determine the effectiveness of recovery measures and to adjust management approaches as needed.

Population assessment depends on collaboration between experts throughout our science centers. We also work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many university scientists in the United States and beyond.

Field Surveys

Ship-based and aerial surveys are critical to achieving our marine mammal and sea turtle population assessment goals, which include estimating abundance and examining trends and human impacts relative to management objectives. Our science centers conduct and manage a limited number of marine mammal and sea turtle-focused surveys each year, often with external collaborators. The number of surveys depends on funding and available ship time and flight time.

Ocean Acoustics

The efficiency of sound travel under water has led to increasing concern over how man-made sound potentially impacts the underwater environment. Our scientists support and conduct research to examine these potential impacts on marine animals and to increase understanding of:

How marine animals use sound.

How underwater acoustics can be used to assess marine animal populations.

How and to what degree anthropogenic activities are changing the underwater soundscape.

How these changes may potentially impact marine animals in their acoustic habitat.

What measures can be taken to mitigate potential impacts.

Bycatch Reduction

Reducing bycatch of protected species can improve the recovery of marine mammals, sea turtles, and fish. Together with the fishing industry, we work to minimize bycatch by developing technological solutions and changes in fishing practices. These include gear modifications, avoidance programs, and/or improved fishing practices in commercial and recreational fisheries.

Species Valuation Studies

Species valuation studies assess the national benefits derived from threatened and endangered marine species, including fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds. Determining the economic value of protected species helps us determine the benefits and value of our corresponding conservation and recovery efforts.

Climate and Ecosystem Science

Understanding climate change impacts on living marine resource distribution and occurrence patterns is a high priority for NOAA Fisheries. We know relatively little about the effects of global and regional climate dynamics on species distribution, abundance, and prey availability. The Arctic in particular is a window to changing climate patterns and a suitable biological laboratory to observe and record the impacts of receding sea ice, warming sea surface temperatures, and variable energy flow. These impacts all affect key marine ecosystem functions and native tribal communities that depend on Arctic resources for their livelihood and sustenance.

Advanced Technologies

Learn about other advanced technologies used by our scientists—including drones, satellite tagging and tracking, and genetic research—to study marine mammals and other ocean animals.


Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus

The most widespread North American owl and the owl with the widest habitat range in the world, the great horned owl is well known to birders and non-birders alike. Large and aggressive, this member of the Strigidae bird family is one of the most fearsome raptors. Discover more great horned owl facts and learn even more about what makes these owls so intimidating and fascinating.

Fast Facts

  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Common Name: Great Horned Owl, Horn Owl, Flying Tiger
  • Lifespan: 13-15 years
  • Size: 22 inches
  • Weight: 3-3.5 pounds
  • Wingspan: 50 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Great Horned Owl Identification

The great horned owl is a large, stocky bird, but like all owls, it is heavily camouflaged. Recognizing its key features and field marks can help birders properly identify this owl, despite the fact that great horned owls in different ranges can be different colors. One of the easiest traits to note is the large ear tufts, and while they aren’t actually ears at all, they can help birders quickly recognize this type of owl. Great horned owls aren’t the only owls with these tufts, however, so it is important to note other characteristics as well.

Great horned owl genders are similar, though females are notably larger than males. The upperparts are finely mottled brownish-gray with checkered barring on the wings, and the slightly lighter underparts show finer horizontal barring. The oval facial disk ranges from gray to orange-rust and is outlined with a thin black border. White around the bill extends onto the chin and throat. The eyes are bright yellow with dark pupils.

Juvenile great horned owls at first look like fluffy grey-white balls with short, triangular ears and large eyes. The birds quickly outgrow their soft down, however, and will first develop more distinctive feathers and coloring on the wings and facial disk. Within a few weeks, the young birds will look just like adults.

The great horned owl has the classic «hoot» call with a deep, strong pitch. The hooting song lasts 3-8 syllables that increase in tempo in the center of the call. Male and female birds may sing together, and females use a slightly higher pitch. Young great horned owls use raspy barks and whines to get attention.

Regional Differences

Plumage color varies geographically with these widespread owls. Great horned owls in Arctic tundra regions, for example, are much lighter than the darker birds found in thick forests. Birds in deserts also tend to be lighter in color or may show more tan that blends with their surroundings.

Markings, diet, behavior, and other traits for great horned owls are similar no matter where the birds are seen.

Great Horned Owl Habitat and Distribution

Great horned owls can be found in all habitats where suitable game is available, from open deserts to thick woods to swampy marshes to isolated tundras. These birds can be found year-round throughout North America except in the most extreme Arctic regions, and they are almost as widespread in South America, though not typically seen in the deepest tropical rainforests.

Migration Pattern

Though they occasionally wander for hunting, particularly in winter when prey may be scarce, great horned owls do not regularly migrate.


The great horned owl is fearless and aggressive, and will frequently attack prey larger and heavier than itself, including cats, skunks, and porcupines. If a nesting area is threatened, these birds will even attack large dogs and other predators, including humans. They are primarily nocturnal birds but may be active in twilight or early morning hours, particularly when there are hungry owlets to feed.

Diet and Feeding

These owls are excellent hunters and take a wide variety of prey, including small to medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, depending on what is available in their range. As aggressive hunters, they may even attack other raptors, such as ospreys and peregrine falcons, especially chicks in the nest. Like all birds of prey, great horned owls are strictly carnivorous. These owls hunt from perches, where they silently watch and listen for prey before taking flight and striking.


Great horned owls are monogamous birds that begin their nesting season in the winter, often laying eggs in January or February. They typically use a nest that was originally built by a different raptor, and stick nests are preferred.

Eggs and Young

The female parent will incubate the white, spherical eggs for 30-35 days, and both parents will care for the baby owlets for an additional 35-45 days. Only one brood, typically with 1-5 eggs, is raised annually.

Great Horned Owl Conservation

Because of their widespread range and adaptability to different habitats and food sources, great horned owls are not considered threatened or endangered. They are at risk, however, from contaminated prey where pesticides are not used appropriately, and fences and other collision hazards also threaten great horned owls. Understanding and minimizing these risks are necessary to protect great horned owls and other raptors.

Tips for Backyard Birders

Birders who want to attract a great horned owl should provide large trees and protected snags for roosting or nesting, and avoid using pest control methods that would eliminate food sources such as rodents or rabbits. In many cases, however, great horned owls are seen as potentially dangerous and unwelcome guests either to pets or backyard birds. Many pet owners and birders take steps to protect their pets from the owls rather than encourage these owls to stay nearby.

How to Find This Bird

Great horned owls are very loyal to their favorite perches, roosts, and feeding spots, and if they are known to be in an area they are likely to return to the same spots frequently. This allows birders to get great sightings of these impressive owls. Otherwise, watch for great horned owls to perch close to the trunks of large trees, often at the edges of fields where they can seek out prey more easily. When young owls are first leaving the nest and learning to fly they may be more active during the day and are more likely to be seen on the ground, but they should not be disturbed. The parent birds are likely nearby and can be very protective of their offspring.

Explore More Species in This Family

The Strigidae bird family includes all the true owls other than barn owls, and there are many amazing species of owls birders can appreciate. When learning about great horned owls, also consider its close cousins, such as:

Don’t forget to check out different amazing owl trivia, as well as check out all our wild bird profiles to learn more about your favorite species.


Natural sites

Discover the 252* natural and mixed sites on the World Heritage List

The World Heritage List comprises 1121 properties of Outstanding Universal Value. Natural sites represent about 23% of this list, including 39 mixed (both cultural and natural) sites and 213 natural sites.

*The map shows all natural World Heritage sites up to 2017. See the map in full screen

Below, you can find all natural and mixed World Heritage sites in alphabetical order. To learn more about each site, click on the links for detailed information from the IUCN World Heritage Outlook website.

You can also search the sites geographically through the World Database on Protected Areas, using ProtectedPlanet.net, or consult the entire World Heritage List on UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre website.











Bolivia (Plurinational State of)




Burkina Faso



Central African Republic





Costa Rica

Côte d’Ivoire



Democratic Republic of the Congo











  • Meteora (mixed natural and cultural)
  • Mount Athos (mixed natural and cultural)






  • Surtsey
  • Vatnajökull National Park — Dynamic Nature of Fire and Ice (inscribed in 2019, see UNESCO page)












Korea, Republic of



  • Maloti-Drakensberg Park (mixed natural and cultural — transboundary site)












New Zealand


North Macedonia









Russian Federation

Saint Lucia





Solomon Islands

South Africa


Sri Lanka






Tanzania, United Republic of






United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

United States of America


Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)


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