CITES and breeding

gjgast at gjgast at
Tue Aug 29 14:20:30 EDT 2000

Dear all,

Recently we have seen interesting contributions on the list on CITES and
breeding of corals. 
Here I will try to clarify a few points as I understand them to be and
raise a few other questions. 
The information is based on my own experience with the CITES legislation
and the Dutch CITES 
homepages (info is also available at ). I hope that
members with experience 
or contacts in CITES enforcing bodies may be able to correct possible
misunderstandings and 
produce some answers.

CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of
wild flora and 
fauna. It is an international treaty designed to protect threatened animals
and plants by reducing 
the transport of organisms taken from the wild to other countries. In the
CITES legislation 
organisms are classified in 3 categories depending on how endangered they
are thought to be. 
Category I: all trade completely forbidden for organisms from the wild
(e.g. whales, gorillas, 
lions, elephants, etc.). Permits can be given for individuals bred in
captivity. An export permit is 
needed at the one end and an import permit at the other.
Category II: Trade is allowed, but restricted (all hard corals, most soft
corals, snakes, 
crocodiles, etc.). Import and export permits are needed. Numbers are
restricted depending on 
the abundance so that sufficient individuals remain for the natural
population to survive.
Category III: Trade is allowed and monitored. Only export permit needed.

CITES only concerns trade or transport between countries. You would not
have to deal with 
CITES to send corals from Hawaii to any other US state or within the
European Union. However, 
countries or states may have other laws to further protect wildlife. As I
understand from Charles, 
Hawaii has its own laws regulating trade or transport from and to Hawaii.
Hence, you need a 
different permit from Hawaii authorities. Other laws or regulations may
apply as well. The 
Netherlands law forbids private individuals to have apes and large cats in
their possession. Only 
zoo's, universities, etc. can get a permit. Another example is the law at
Curacao, which forbids 
one to break off, remove, sell, buy, process, deliver or transport corals
from Curacao waters. 
Some sort of equivalent laws are in place in many other countries. 

CITES applies to all corals in all countries that have rectified the
convention. There is no 
difference between Caribbean, Red Sea or Indo-Pacific corals. CITES does
not only apply to 
whole living individuals, but also to dead bodies or parts of organisms.
Obviously, trade in 
elephant tusks and rhino horns has been the problem behind this decision.
So CITES applies to 
coral skeletons, this so called "live rock" (isn't that a contradictio
interminis???) and jewels 
made out of black and blood coral. By the way, CITES regulations also apply
to coral larvae 
(don't know why).

CITES was designed for trade. We scientists often do not sell corals, but
we take them to our 
own lab or give them collegues for research purposes. CITES still applies.
However, non-
commercial trade or transport for scientific studies is recognised and
permitted. Scientific 
institutions can have themselves registered as such with the CITES
authorities. The benefit of 
this is that exchange is made much easier. You get a pile of preprinted
registration cards in 
advance. You fill in names and addresses of sender and receiver as well as
the contents of the 
package. Glue the card on the package and send it away. No need to arrange
import and export 
permits in advance. The limitation is that this only works between
registered institutions, but it 
certainly helps to be one.

Hope this helps to a clearer picture on CITES. Now to breeding.

Trade in individuals bred in captivity is no problem. For example, in your
zoo you have lion Bill 
and lioness Monica. By some kind of miracle one morning you find a litter
with kittens Al and 
George. Once you get the paperwork right, you have no problem to export
George to a zoo in 
Moskow and Al to another in Tokyo. 

Likewise, hobbyists exchange parrots, cockatoos, snakes, lizards, etc. bred
and raised in 
cages in their homes.

Yes, David, export and import of bred corals is certainly allowed under the
CITES regulations. I 
do, however, see a little  problem: What is bred coral? 

The example above with names has another reason than trying to be funny. My
impression is 
that the CITES legislation was written with large organisms in mind
(mammals, birds, etc.). 
Trade, transport and place of birth can easily be established for such
individuals. Al and George 
were born from known parents in a zoo and they will stay in captivity their
whole life (at least one 
would hope so). Reproductive things are not so simple with corals, as we
all know. 

One way to propagate corals is by fragmentation. Obviously, the genet /
ramet question raises 
its ugly head. Does CITES recognise genetic individuals or separate
colonies as individuals for 
which permits are needed?  

As with the Bill and Monica example above, one would be safe to have parent
colonies in 
aquarium (local laws permitting) and sell possible offspring. The baby
corals would be bred in 

Things get vaguer when one takes corals from the reef to produce offspring
by some sort of IVF. 
As the babies would still be bred in captivity, I think that this is still
okay under CITES. Right?

One step further from captivity is the procedure with plates (used in
COREMAP for example). 
Plates are put in water, spat settles and the desired corals are grown by
removing the wrong 
ones. Common sense would say "no problem", because there is so much spat
drifting around 
and one does not harm the existing reef. But imagine a bunch of lawyers
having a party on this 
one in court (where common sense blew out of the window a long time ago).
These corals were 
definitely not bred in captivity. Wild larvae (to which CITES applies) were
captured on the plates 
and removed from the water. They could have settled on the reef (stolen
opportunity, right?). If 
trade in colonies growing on plates is allowed, this would also hold for
corals growing on other 
anthropogenic artificial structures such as pipes, dams, piers, jetties,
cars, boats, ships, 
waterscooters, pontoons, cannons, oil drums, chairs, bottles, wood, anchors
and all those other 
beauties I've seen underwater. 

Another question arises when one puts the fragments or baby corals back on
the reef to let 
them grow up and collect them when they are large enough to sell. They were
bred in captivity, 
but reared in the wild. Are these wild animals or not?????

David on your other questions:
1. Yes, I believe that propagation in captivity of corals could replace the
trade in wild corals 
chopped off from reefs. Furthermore, I hope that the CITES authorities will
stop all import permits 
for wild corals when sufficient cultured ones are available.

2. The issue of xenobionts (foreign creatures) is a very interesting one.
One could have an 
interesting philosophical discussion whether the Caribbean would be a more
interesting area 
after invasion by a bunch of more flashy Red Sea and Pacific corals. But
this is not the way we 
deal with nature. There are too many examples of disasters, such as the
salmon story sent 
before. One can also think of cane toads and rabbits in Australia, ciclids
in African lakes, 
sparrows and rats all over the globe, etc. etc.. Sometimes scientists think
it is safe, but 
apparently they forgot Murphy's law. The things always break out sooner or
later. Maybe one 
could safely grow foreign corals in a completely closed artificial seawater
system, so that larvae 
can not escape. Such a system would be very expensive. The way to breed
corals from different 
area's would be to set up coral farms in each area. Hence, one in the Carib
for those corals, one 
near your place for Red Sea corals, one in Oz for GBR corals, etc.. Anybody
happening to have 
a few loose millions?

My two cents. Have a good one, GJ.

Dr. Gert Jan Gast
Oostelijke Handelskade 31
1019BL Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Phone int 31 (0)20 4198607
Please use <gjgast at> for large attachments
and <gjgast at> if you happen to know I am abroad.

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