[Coral-List] What is a fossil coral

Robert W. Buddemeier buddrw at kgs.ku.edu
Fri Jul 11 07:51:19 EDT 2003

Andy, and others --

I suggest this approach is a misidentification of the problem. The real 
difficulty is this line from your message:

"In addition, material referred to by the aquarium
industry as 
 live rock
reef substrate
 are also currently covered
under the treaty and must be reported as 
. "

This is scientifically such a bizarre misclassification that there is no way you are going to be able to 'fix' it in a technically acceptable fashion by diddling with the definition of something that really IS (or was) a scleractinian.  

Rather than attacking the problem through the fossil coral definition (which I can easily see criminalizing the inadvertent possession of road gravel from many island or coastal locations), I suggest that it makes a lot more sense to target the characteristics of 'live rock' or 'reef substrate' that you want to exclude.  

Examples:  Is it wet?  Does it contain anything that looks organic? Easy tests, and not dependent on fossil interpretation.  To avoid the problem of authorizing ornamental skeleton import, I suggest that all that is needed is a size limit -- individual pieces and total shipment.  A sample of a few cm3 is enough for ID and most chemical/radiometric analyses (an a few kg of same could represent a major sampling expedition, if accompanied by survey and photos), but would be unattractive for decorative purposes and uneconomic as a unit of import for bulk (e.g., substrate) use.  

No matter how sympathetic we are to noble intentions, I think the scientific community does nobody any favors by acquiescing in the misuse and distortion of scientific concepts and terminology.

Bob Buddemeier

Andy Bruckner wrote:

>Dear listers,
>I am seeking a workable definition for a fossil coral that could be
>adopted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
>(CITES) and used by Law Enforcement when monitoring coral shipments
>(exports and imports). As most of you are aware, all stony corals (all
>species of scleractinain corals, as well as the genera Millepora,
>Stylaster, Distichopora, Heliopora and Tubipora) are currently listed on
>Appendix II of CITES.  In addition, material referred to by the aquarium
>industry as 
 live rock
reef substrate
 are also currently covered
>under the treaty and must be reported as 
.   Fossil corals
>are exempted from CITES controls while non-fossils (live and dead
>specimens) are regulated in international trade via permits.  No one to
>date has come up with a working CITES definition of "fossil" corals that
>was acceptable by all CITES parties.
>In 2000 a small working group was formed through the Animals Committee
>of the CITES to evaluate how stony corals are treated under CITES and
>specifically to resolve the fossil coral dilemma.  The United Kingdom
>commissioned a report from two experts, Tissier & Scoffin, on the fossil
>coral issue. In this report, the authors conclude that a coral cannot be
>considered a fossil until all living tissue has died and the coral is
>buried.  Burial and permanent preservation refers to the coral surface
>becoming covered in hard encrustations (including reef substrate covered
>by coralline algae), lithification and mineralogical alteration.   But,
>the authors indicate that the two latter components take a long time and
>this is less relevant to the definition of corals collected from the
>surface of present day reefs. The authors provide the definition as well
>as a practical key for distinguishing fossil and non-fossil corals.
>Based on their key and definition, most of the live rock in trade would
>be classified as a fossil coral.
>The concern of the U.S. is that the definition must be one that is
>easily enforceable  law enforcement officials must be able to readily
>differentiate between a fossil coral and non-fossil coral. We do not
>believe that live rock qualifies as a fossil coral,  and are concerned
>about the environmental implications if live rock were no longer
>regulated under CITES.  The definition of Tissier & Scoffin would apply
>to much of the wild collected "live rock" in the pet trade, which is
>extracted from reef flats and other reef environments in the S. Pacific
>and Southeast Asia and shipped to the U.S. and other importing countries
>at quantities in excess of 1.5 million kg per year (the volume continues
>to increase each year).  We feel that CITES provides one key mechanism
>for promoting sustainable trade in live rock; most of the exporting
>countries have few other measures to conserve this resource, and at
>least one group has completed a study that demonstrate that current
>harvest rates in some areas are causing significant habitat impacts.
>If you are interested in seeing this report, I can forward a copy by
>email.  Thanks for your help in defining a coral fossil.
>Andy Bruckner
>NOAA FIsheries
>Office of Habitat Conservation
>Coral-List mailing list
>Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

Dr. Robert W. Buddemeier
Kansas Geological Survey
University of Kansas
1930 Constant Avenue
Lawrence, KS 66047 USA
e-mail: buddrw at ku.edu
ph (1) (785) 864-2112
fax (1) (785) 864-5317

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