no danger for reefs thanks to CITES

Helmut ZIBROWIUS hzibrowi at
Sat Feb 12 06:30:01 EST 2000

   There have been calls on this list to protect coral reefs in the U.S.
It was said that coral reefs are endangered, i.e., by:

-- U.S. Military bombing coral reefs;
-- Army Corps of Engineers dredging coral reefs;
-- National Marine Fisheries Service allowing the use of fishing gears
    that destroy coral reefs;
-- Department of Transportation constructing coastal roads
    that smother coral reefs;
-- EPA allowing high nutrient effluent to kill coral reefs;
-- and more.

   I will try to convince you that this was a fake alert, that there can be
no major problem for coral reefs in the U.S. Then I will also address coral
and reef protection elsewhere in the world. No reason to worry, we have

   By definition coral reefs are built by corals. The whole order of
Scleractinia ranging from the edge of Antarctica to Greenland and Norway,
from the tidal zone to some 6000 meters depth (in 1999 a worldwide list of
1314 species has been published in Atoll Research Bulletin), is CITES
protected like the panda and the rhinoceros. This 1990 breakthrough is due
to the inventiveness of an international bunch of bureaucrates. The
convention has notably been signed by the U.S. (contrary to the treatise
against anti-personal mines).

   Being declared endangered species, the whole order of Scleractinia
benefits of utmost attention paid by U.S. authorities to CITES regulations.
Presently the only recognized danger for Scleractinia (and thereby reefs)
consists in scientific research. For example, it happens that scientists
pretend a need to send each other pieces of coral and tend to do this
without taking into account CITES regulations.

   This has also been my "serious crime". To summarize, the following lines
contain the confession of a repentant former eco-terrorist whose eyes for
CITES issues have been opened by U.S. authorities, in this case the
Administration of the respected Smithsonian Institution.  The facts:
Following a request received in 1993, I loaned a series of scleractinian
samples to the Smithsonian without thinking of the then still widely
unknown 1990 CITES regulation.

  When subsequently the CITES regulation was discovered at the Smithsonian
Institution, my loaned coral samples have been sequestrated as illegally
imported pieces of protected species. They still have not been returned to
me at the beginning of the year 2000, but remain sequestrated, after having
caused much trouble to collection managers, administrators, and the legal

   Given that a series of coral samples originally sent for scientific
purposes have caused an affaire of such unexpected dimensions (in terms of
administrative efforts and taxpayer's dollars), U.S. citizens should free
themselves from whatever fears for the well being of the Florida and other
coral reefs. Thanks to strictest CITES application everything is for the

   As for other parts of the world, the CITES regulation covering the order
Scleractinia (as well as various other entire groups of "coral" organisms)
compensates for all imaginable damage to reefs by actions as those
mentioned above, human overpopulation, greenhouse effect, quarrying,
landfills, nutrient rich run off into lagoons, blast and cyanide fishing,
curio shops (only a minor few hundred tons per year), etc.

   The real danger to be strictly monitored remains coral research
activities. Imagine, some guys drill a hole into big colonies, others break
off a piece, others touch to obscure tiny species found by deep dredging,
and others, politically most incorrect, photograph coral specimens in situ
without having asked for the coral's written permission. These people would
be able to annihilate biodiversity. Fortunately, thanks to CITES, there are
often unsurmountable administrative barriers that prevent them from
cooperating internationally.

(Centre d'Oceanologie de Marseille)
Station Marine d'Endoume
Rue Batterie des Lions
13007 Marseille / France
E-MAIL:  hzibrowi at
TEL: within France  0491041624  from abroad  +33  491041624
FAX: within France  0491041635  from abroad  +33  491041635  

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
sponsors coral-list and the Coral Health and Monitoring Program
(CHAMP,  Please visit the Web site
for instructions on subscribing and unsubscribing to coral-list.

More information about the Coral-list-old mailing list