[Coral-List] What is a fossil coral

John McManus jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu
Mon Jul 14 12:18:21 EDT 2003

It seems that it is going to be difficult to come up with a definition
of fossil coral that excludes live rock. Although some live rocks will
be primarily non-coral limestone ("pavement from calcareous algae,
forams, etc.), others will be at least partially old, deceased coral.
That coral could be a few tens of years, or many thousands or millions
of years old. 

The points at issue about live rock seem to be 1. the fact that live
organisms come with them, and 2. there are a limited number of such
rocks (of appropriate size, composition and shape) on a given reef
suitable to support those organisms and the ones that live under them or
feed on them. Perhaps there needs to be separate legislation about live
rock that overrides the exemption for fossil coral. That would seem be a
lot of work, so I hope you find another way.




John W. McManus, PhD
Director, National Center for Caribbean Coral Reef Research (NCORE)
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS)
University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway
Miami, Florida 33149. 
jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu 
Tel. (305) 361-4814
Fax (305) 361-4910

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Andy
Sent: Thursday, July 10, 2003 11:59 AM
To: coral list server
Subject: [Coral-List] What is a fossil coral

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" and "reef substrate" are also currently covered
under the treaty and must be reported as "Scleractinia".   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

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