coral harvesting

Thomas Heeger theeger at
Sun Aug 8 21:39:22 EDT 1999

Dear fellow coral friends,

world wide the coral  reefs are degrading. The single most important factor 
pushing that is overfishing. Here in the Philippines (a country with 
very strict environmental laws, but unfortunately little enforcement) you 
can at any single day count 30 to 40 dynamite blasts (it is actually 
ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer) devastating the physical structure of 
the reefs,  killing abundant larvae material and inverts as well as fishes.

Aware of that problem we work since 5 years with fishing 
communities and found out that 
they need alternatives to have a stable income. Fishermen so far just 
exploit their resources with rapid increase in competition over the 
last decades (population growth, export of marine products).
Instead of a mere exploitation of resources the fishermen should 
adopt the basic principles of farmers who prepare the soil, plant the 
seedlings, irrigate, take care of parasites and finally harvest their 
That background in mind we started two years ago with the 
implementation of a coral farm in Olango Island, 
Cebu. The basic concept is to provide alternative income to the 
fisherfolks and at the same time protect/enhance the biodiversity of 
coral reefs with reef rehabilitation activities.
Since we use cheap materials/labor and natural substrates one hectare reef 
can be rehabilitated (12.5% cover) for 3.600 US$ including all costs 
(gathering of fragments, attachment to hard substrate, tending during
grow-out phase in the Coral Nursery Units, transportation to reha 
site and rehabilitation itself). This is by far the cheapest reha 
method known (please see more specific details in Heeger, T. ,Cashman, 
M. and F. Sotto 1999: Coral farming as alternative livelihod for 
sustainable natural resource management and coral reef rehabilitaion. 
Proc. of Oceanol. Internat. Pacific Rim, Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd., 
New Malden, Surrey, UK, pp 171-185).
Of course, we can prove that the donor corals (in no case we take more 
than 50%, usually 10 to 20& of one colony) survive and overgrow the 
fragmented area within a few weeks (species dependent). According to 
our results fragmentation increases within a few month the calcified 
material by factor 2. Mortality in the farm due to predation is below 1 %. 

Coral export (live and dead) is banned in the Philippines and 
according to my information (may not be up-to-date) strictly enforced. 
Currently we are negotiating with the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic 
Resources) for an export permit of live corals for the aquarium 
In general we are not against aquarium trade under the 
condition that the corals are from farms operated by fisher 
cooperatives. Natural coral extraction done in many tropical 
countries e.g. Indonesia and Fiji for 
trade will further decrease coral cover and diversity.
Considering how much reef aquarium hobbyists 
contributed to science and how tremendous public aquariums help
to raise the awareness for the important and beautiful ecosystems, 
aquarium trade on a SUSTAINABLE level where the " resource owners" are 
benefitted is positive for both sides. On the other hand aquarium 
trade (we have many expamples documented, e.g. 2 m high piles of sea 
stars, thousands of 2 ltr. plastic bags some with five baby nurse sharks 
together, shipped via Manila to the US, seahorses and other 
protected species) where the fisherfolks get 0.05 cents for each alive 
fish and the animals are sold for 20 to 50 US$ per head to the 
consumers, exploitation will be fueled. The money  will go to 
the big dealers and not to the resource owners who are forced to use 
any means squeezing out their daily food from the more and more 
impoverishing reefs. A vicious cicle.

We believe that the coral farming concept could be multiplied in 
other suitable areas to protect the reefs and to promote coral 

Best fishes,

Thomas Heeger

Dr. Thomas Heeger
Professor of Marine Biology
University of San Carlos
Marine Biology Section
Cebu City, Cebu
Philippines 6000
Phone: 0063 32 4198764
Fax: 0063 32 3460351
e-mail: theeger at

More information about the Coral-list-old mailing list