Sustainable "harvest" of corals?????

Nokome Bentley nbentley at
Sun Jan 24 17:01:38 EST 1999

Dear coral-list,

Unfortunately, I have been unable to respond earlier to Bayu Ludvianto's original query on the exploitation of corals in Indonesia and the ensuing discussion on coral harvesting.  Last year I did a review of the exploitation of corals in Indonesia for TRAFFIC (the trade-monitoring arm of the WWF and the IUCN).  Some of the information collected may be of use to Bayu and the coral harvesting discussion in general.

The use of corals in Indonesia can be divided into three main areas:

1.  Collection for the aquarium and curio trade

Prior to the early 1980s, the Philippines was the major supplier of coral to the world.  However, Presidential decrees in 1977 and 1980 banning coral exports, combined with effective enforcement, resulted in a dramatic reduction of trade from that country.  By the late 1980s only about half of the trade originated from the Philippines and by 1993 fewer than 500 pieces of coral were reported as exported from that country each year.  Concurrent with the reduction in trade from the Philippines, exports from Indonesia rose and by the early 1990s it became the world's primary supplier of coral pieces.  By 1993, Indonesia exported about 83% and 92% of the trade in raw and live corals respectively.

During the mid-1990s, total Indonesian exports of corals were around 1 million pieces annually with 85% of these going to the USA and Japan. Between 1985 and 1995, 43% of exports were of live corals (eg Euphyllia, Goniopora and Catalaphyllia).  There has been a trend towards an increasing proportion of live exports and by 1995, around 80% of the corals imported into the USA from Indonesia were alive.

2.  Mining for lime production and construction

There is widespread use of corals in small scale construction, particularly in island communities where alternative forms of material are scarce or costly.  It is hard to estimate the magnitude of this harvest but it is likely to be 1000's of tons per year.

More intensive, large scale mining of coral reefs is occurring in some areas.  I estimated that one village collects in the vicinity of 2000t of coral for making lime each year.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is probably the largest site for this type of collection and is unlikely to be matched elsewhere.  Both live and dead corals are collected.

Severe damage was done to coral reefs in Bali due to coral mining for hotel construction in the late 1970s.  In one area in particular, there is now no reef or beach for the hotel customers to enjoy and retaining walls have had to be built to prevent further erosion.

3.  Collection of black corals for use in jewelry

Relatively small amounts of black corals.  Increasingly scarce according to collectors.

The impacts of coral collection for the aquarium trade and mining for construction are quite different.  Mining is causing severe impacts on a wide variety of coral species in localized areas.  Collection generally targets a few species and is generally more extensive.  Nonetheless, collection has the potential to result in the depletion of some species of corals particularly in accessible areas prone to concentrated harvesting.

All hard corals (at least the orders Scleractinia, Coenothecalia and the family Tubiporidae) are listed under CITES Appendix II.  Species listed under Appendix II can be exported if the government considers that the quantities of exports are sustainable.  Indonesia sets annual quotas on the number of each coral species that can be exported. Thus, in many respects Indonesia already has an eco-labelling scheme for corals since according to CITES all corals exported from there are within sustainable limits. 

Unfortunately, given uncertainties about the population dynamics of corals and the area of reefs in Indonesia, it is difficult to determine what the quota levels should be.  It is not clear whether current Indonesian export quotas are sustainable or not.  But such problems would also confront an independent eco-labelling scheme.  Rather than establishing an eco-labelling scheme it may be more beneficial for those concerned about the sustainability of export coral trade in Indonesia to help strengthen the effectiveness of the current CITES export quotas.   For example, more research into the status of exploited species and encouraging the authorities to take a precautionary approach to quota setting while uncertainties still exist.

Some on the list have suggested an immediate ban on the trade of all wild caught corals.  As others have pointed out this may well be worse for the corals than the current situation.  Remove coral collection as a source of income for coastal fishing communities and they may turn to potentially more destructive activities - cyanide and dynamite fishing are two already attractive means to make ends meet.  Providing fishers with a means of income that is dependent upon a healthy functioning reef is the best way to provide an incentive to preserve those reefs.  Small-scale coral culture as practiced in the Solomon Islands may be a way to do this.  This sort of activity could be used as an alternative income for the coral miners in Indonesia.  The sustainable harvesting of coral species that cannot be cultured is another alternative.  Large-scale culture of corals in developed nations and a ban on wild-caught coral exports is only likely to worsen the fate of coral reefs in Indonesia.

More details are available in the following article.  Email me if you would like a reprint.

Bentley, N.  (1998). An overview of the exploitation, trade and management of corals in Indonesia.  TRAFFIC Bulletin, 17(2): 67-78.


Nokome Bentley
 Trophia Research and Consulting

 PO Box 60					
 New Zealand

 Ph:   + 64 3 319 6850.  Fax: + 64 3 319 6850

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