Coral Harvesting - Fiji.

J. Charles Delbeek delbeek at
Sat Aug 7 15:26:26 EDT 1999

As usual the debate over coral harvesting seems to be based more on
emotion and gut reactions than any sort of scientific basis rooted in
facts. Yes the numbers of corals and live rock collected sound immense but
if compared to the total amounts of coral and live rock in Fijian waters,
does this represent a significant and more importantly a negative impact
on Fijian reefs? Can this rate of collection be sustained without a
decline on Fijian reefs? You can quote all the numbers you want to (Eric)
but unless you put those numbers into context they mean nothing. It is my
understanding that a common practice in Fiji is to vastly over report the
number of corals shipped to avoid going over the stated amounted such that
the actually number of corals shipped from Fiji is much smaller than that
"offically" reported.

Maureen if you are going to state the report recommends the coral trade
should continue should you not also mention why the report recommends
this? The report recommends a moratorium on the issuance of permits for a
two year period while studies and surveys are conducted to ascertain the
impacts on the reef of live coral and live rock collection. The goal being
to offer guidelines on what sustainable collection can be. It is my
understanding that the report you are referring to, which your
organization Greenpeace has gotten a hold of, is but a third draft, and
not even a final copy. Should you not at least have waited for the final
report to be made available before trying to drum up opposition to it? It
is also my understanding that there are currently 6 collectors of marine
organisms licensed in Fiji and that of these, two collect and export live
rock and coral for the aquarium trade. Hardly what one might call a
deluge. I would also not be surprised that the report would recommend that
the number of permits issued be kept low.

I am not trying to defend the live coral trade since I know there are
abuses occuring and that handling practices need to be improved. But I
also know that the coral being collected are fist sized-pieces,
representing perhaps two years growth, it is the curio coral collectors
who are removing the large, breeding population-sized pieces. And even in
this case this practice has been going on MUCH longer than the live coral
trade and the impacts on the reefs have been negligable, and at worst
short term. The live corals are individually wrapped in plastic bags and
handled carefully, dead corals are of little use. Not every coral is
selected since shape, size and colour must all be considered. Obviously
the curio trade makes no such distinctions. When talking of the impacts of
coral collection one really needs to distinguish between the live coral
trade and the curio trade. Should we not also allow organisations such as
the Marine Aquarium Council to get inolved with this issue to help instill
some sort of standards for collection, handling and shipping? I wonder how
many of the opponents of this trade in Fiji have actually accompanied
collectors to observe how they go about their business?

As some have mentioned here, coral farming may be the long term solution,
but it takes money to start a farm and it takes time, in the meantime
these people need to make a living, if you ban the collection of wild
colonies completely how do they do this and how do they get started?

As far as live rock goes, yes some diversity is removed, but what
diversity is created by removing these rocks? What moves in to the space
created? The same goes for corals, remove a coral and within short time
the space is invaded by other organisms and even other corals. Yes there
are abuses in live rock collection, yes the method of handling needs to be
greatly improved but these are issues that can be addressed and should not
by themselves be grounds to ban the practice.

And finally what of the people of Fiji? These are their resources, they
are owned by coastal villages .. in the end it is theirs to do with as
they please. This is an emerging fishery that puts money into their
pockets to build schools and buy supplies for their village. If there is
the opportunity to determine if these resources can be utilized in a
responsible manner do we not at least owe them the opportunity to find

Banning the import of corals into the US will do little to help areas of
coral bleaching and only hurts the economies of countries such as Fiji
which has escaped massive bleaching. Perhaps a more equitable solution
would be to treat a ban on coral imports on a regional basis? Corals from
those areas which have experienced extensive bleaching and coral death
(e.g. Maldives) would not be allowed to be imported? Just an idea.

Maureen, you said that Fiji was divided on this issue, yet you ask for
evidence to balance the field. Perhaps this should be reworded to state
that Greenpeace is looking for evidence to halt the coral trade, since
their official stance is no resource use is good resource use?

J. Charles Delbeek M.Sc.

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