[CDHC] fossil coral

Andy Bruckner Andy.Bruckner at noaa.gov
Thu Jul 10 12:00:39 EDT 2003

Dear CDHC members,

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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