[Coral-List] Corals in the aquarium trade

Lee Goldman coralfarmguam at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 20 09:45:22 EDT 2008

Hi Charles and list,

I struggled with where the following response should be
posted; directly to Charles or to him via the listserve. In the end, I opted
for the listserve because I believe there is a considerably large interest in
this subject. If we are to accept (and why not) what Dr Les Kaufman wrote about
the advances in our understanding of just about every aspect of coral biology
due to the ability to keep corals in captivity, then many people on this list
should be interested to some degree. Further, we as a community, are blessed
with the ability to find motivation in our work from living organisms, thus
their welfare is usually of serious concern. Understanding that this topic may
not derive as much alarm as a topic about global warming or sedimentation, it
is still relevant. But please forgive me if I assume too much (and for the length of my post). 


I was cautioned against addressing this question. The
reasons they gave me were ones that I already suspected with my largest concern
being that it was a set-up. You knew I could not answer that question, and you
counted on that, in not being able to answer the question it would be assumed
that there were no significant contributions towards reef degradation from
harvesting corals for the aquarium trade. Though I could be interpreting your
angle incorrectly, I believe it is irresponsible to think this way in the
absence of proper studies (and studies that look at all species in the trade;
at the targeted reefs over a long period of time; at individual colony health,
fecundity, ability to compete; and connectivity). In a way, though, this
position is no different from opponents of global warming who took on the exact
same argument.

But rather, I appeal to the conservation side of it (my
original post was prompted by Dr. Kaufman’s concern about conservation) by
suggesting that even if I cannot establish significant impacts, there was an
incredibly large amount of corals taken off reefs); and that it certainly represents
a less-than-desirable scenario (for both the individual coral colony and the
community) than if they were left alone. I stand by my numbers as CITES is
pretty clear…I added up the number of exports in 2007. Just over one million…and
several locations were not reporting such as Micronesia (Marshall Is.);
Melanesia (Solomon Is.); and Malaysia (Sabah). For your reference, I added only
the number of wild-harvested corals coming out of Indonesia. Had I added the
maricultured numbers, the count would have been closer to two million. Of
course, I can’t substantiate the incidentals as I described them in the previous
post, but are there any serious arguments that it doesn’t exist?

I extend my argument to say that even if there is ‘no’
impact, as you suggest, with all of the other threats to the reef, is it
affordable to remove corals for private enjoyment? And does it translate to
reef conservation?  I strongly suspect you
would not concede the first point and emphatically promote the second. So I
wanted to bring up some areas of concern that perhaps you can help me with. One
addresses your ‘mathematical’ model (or dilution is the solution to…) and the
other, the very ethics of the aquarium trade with regards to how respectful it
really is (or what is one life worth…) 

First, it is well documented that over the past decade over
10 million corals have been exported from reefs for the aquarium trade (roughly
one million per year…and the early 90’s saw even higher numbers per annum being
exported). In the same time frame, we have lost (and are losing) many areas of
reef. Thus, when you have me compare the number of corals taken versus the
total area of coral reef (which in your description is not accurate since all
reefs at all depths are not harvested, and thus, the potential impact cannot be
translated world-wide, but needs to be addressed on a local scale; i.e. what
are the impacts to the local reef as a result of harvesting…connectivity?....)
what happens  to the numbers as the
number of corals harvested remains the same each year while the area of reef
healthy reef declines? I’ll answer that with a question: The trend is clear so
when will it become a significant issue? 

Now the above approach requires some back-up because I can
hear you say that perhaps aquaculture will catch up to the demand and we won’t
have corals harvested from the reefs. I don’t believe that will ever be the
case, but to make my point let’s look at this real-life scenario.

Goniopora. Goniopora is a notoriously hard coral to keep in
captivity. Even the most advanced aquarists have trouble keeping them alive for
more than a year with most captive life spans lasting far below that. I think
that I am safe to say that in the wild, Goniopora enjoys a much longer lifespan
than one year. One of the only published and responsible pleas to aquarists asking
for them essentially to cease in the pursuit to keep this coral (at least until
methods for keeping them humanly in captivity are discovered and proven over
time) is by one of the larger influences in the aquarium trade (and who also should
have been mentioned in Dr. Kaufman’s post , along with Mr. Delbeek and Dr..
Carlson); Eric Borneman. In his book on coral husbandry he clearly mentioned of
their trouble and cautioned against aquarists having them. In 2007, nearly 150,000
pieces (G. lobata, minor, stokes)
were exported from Indonesia. The report differentiates between those that were
wild harvested and those that were maricultured (although I am less than
confident about the label ‘maricultured’ as a distinction between wild
harvested). But that is not important because the number of maricultured
Goniopora was ‘0’. So Goniopora made up close to 15% of the total exports of
wild harvested corals and were among the highest against all other species
(only Heliofungia actriniformis was
higher, compared to individual species of Goniopora, by 1000 pcs…but also with
‘0’ maricultured). So, where is the ethical and conservative value in the
aquarium trade that imports high numbers of corals that are exponentially less
successful to keep than most other species of corals? It appears to me that it is
a clear death sentence and well, a sadistic one (because there are two
potential patterns suggested by the numbers: 1) is that aquarists buys one, it
dies, they buy another one…; or 2) they are increasingly popular and the demand
is higher, but where is the education and conservation within the aquarium
trade to put a stop to this?).  Is the
number of exported Goniopora sustainable to the wild populations? I don’t know,
do you? But is that the issue? 

Finally, I believe folks in the aquarium trade heavily support
coral mariculture and propagation because they really suspect that it is
contributing to the overall threat of reefs (admittedly not on the global
warming or pollution scale). They may never outright admit it (pleading the
right to not say anything lest self incrimination). But if it wasn’t a problem
why propagate at all; why educate when one can simply get more at no cost to
the environment?  I am glad, though,
that they, and certainly you, are helping to overcome this issue, but until
things do change and a significant reduction in demand is measured; I hope
that, if not me, other people will say it like it is. It may not sound good to
the general aquarium industry; but fair criticism given sincerely does wonders
for those that accept it. 

On a side note, I know you work within
and earn a living from the aquarium industry so your questions are
understandable, but I sit down with the folks after the MACNA conferences and
we talk about this around a beer (okay many beers). They all agreed with this
assessment and none of them tried to defend it with numbers. Rather, they all
honestly want to do something about which is why they invited me to the
conferences; to learn about my alternative techniques and ideas.  I can’t give them enough respect for accepting
this and striving for change…




Lee Goldman

Coral  Farm Guam

PO Box 6682

Tamuning, Guam 96931


Email: coralfarmguam at yahoo.com

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