[Coral-List] question regarding importation of red coral to the USA

Julian Sprung jsprung at bellsouth.net
Mon Sep 8 20:35:40 EDT 2003

Dear Anne,

I have been noticing increasing popularity and presence of this red coral in
jewelry shops. It appears to be sections of the calcareous nodes from the
skeletons of the gorgonian/seafan Melithaea. For photographs please see page
192 in my book Corals: A Quick Reference Guide (the top photo on this page
is the species used for jewelry). See pages 170-173 in the book Soft Corals
and Sea Fans by Fabricius and Alderslade for additional information about
the genus.

Although the nodes are indeed calcium carbonate, since this coral is not a
scleractinian, harvest of material from it does not appear to be regulated.

These seafans are fairly abundant on reef walls in the Western Pacific and
Indian Ocean, and they grow to a very large size. Old Melithaea Seafans
often have dead sections near the base, from which these nodes could be
collected. If that is how the harvest is conducted, it is my opinion that it
is a harmless and sustainable activity. If the whole fans are harvested it
may not be. Another possibility is that the nodes are washed ashore by
storms and are simply harvested where they occur along the coast. If you
look at the jewelry it appears that the nodes are eroded in a way consistent
with them being ground down in the surf, like the glass fragments one finds
on beaches.

Regarding your importation question, the "license" required for
scleractinian corals is called a CITES (Center for International Trade of
Endangered Species) permit, and it allows the legal importation of
scleractinian corals according to CITES guidelines. You can do a search
online to find out more about how this permit system works. In any case, as
I said, the red coral you asked about is not covered by Cites, to the best
of my knowledge. However, since the skeletons of this soft coral are "hard
coral" (ie calcium carbonate) and since Fish and Wildlife personnel are not
coral taxonomists, an importer must use the correct name to demonstrate
which non-scleractinian coral this is. Otherwise the problems experienced
are likely to be repeated.


Julian Sprung

>From: Anne Cohen <acohen at whoi.edu>
>To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>Subject: [Coral-List] question regarding importation of red coral to the USA
>Date: Sat, Sep 6, 2003, 1:38 PM

> Dear All
> A jewellery supplier in Massachussetts contacted me regarding a shipment
> of "synthetic" red coral they received from Thailand, that was
> subsequently held but not confiscated by US Fish and Wildlife who issued
> the supplier with a "Notification of Wildlife Importation/Exportation
> Violation". Apparently USFW had tested the items and found them to be
> real coral.
> The jewellery supplier is anxious to learn more and avoid illegal
> importations. I'd appreciate your comments and answers to these specific
> questions that were addressed to me:
> If it is "real" coral is all coral considered endangered and banned
> from Importation into the U.S., or O.K. to import with a license? We
> have taken much time to research this, but the information  on coral is
> vast. It seems there are thousands of types of coral. Some perhaps more
> endangered than others? Is there any difference when importing "live"
> coral as compared to "dead" coral. It seems coral is very easy to
> purchase, both live (as for fish tanks) and the type for
> ornamentation/jewelry. How can that be if it cannot be legally imported
> into the U.S.? Is coral cultivated in certain countries for re-sale?
> Many Thanks
> Anne
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