[Coral-List] THE HARRY POTTER CORAL RE: Coral collection vs farming

Sarah Frias-Torres sfrias_torres at hotmail.com
Tue Oct 21 12:47:12 EDT 2008

Dear Coral-listers,
If I could gather all the stony corals now on display at all the shell shops in Florida, and with a magic wand bring them back to life, I could build myself a whole coral reef. 
This Harry Potter adventure is not as off the wall as you might think. Indeed, the trading of hard corals and other interesting creatures for the purpose of coffee table display has a magic of its own.
To illustrate, let’s review the trading regulations for CITES appendix II species, particularly, the import and export permits required.
According to article IV, export of a species for the purpose of international trade may be authorized by the granting of an export permit. But the import of a species does not require a specific “import permit”, rather the import “shall require prior presentation of either an export permit or a re-export certificate”. The export permits have to provide quite a detailed amount of information, (species, location, etc.) the main purpose is to ensure that there is compliance with CITES II of controlled trade in order to avoid threatening the species with extinction. While well intentioned, I wonder how many of those export permits truly exist.
Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) are also in CITES appendix II, and they magically transform into “curios” once they are collected from the ocean. Because that is the description you find in any shipment of fully dried seahorses arriving to a shell shop in your neighborhood. I have also seen the word “curios” or “souvenir” attached to a delivery box full of very dead stony corals, at a Florida shell shop that shall remain nameless (just before I was literally pushed out of the store)
I have asked high and low how this magic transformation occurs, even talked to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife folks sitting at one of the educational stands during ICRS. No logical answer so far.
I don’t think CITES appendix II is making any difference in reducing the extraction of stony corals for any kind of trade (souvenir, aquarium, etc).And if anyone is working on true coral aquaculture as a means of sustainable development for local coastal communities, their carefully harvested corals are most likely diluted in a sea of unsustainable harvest.
Unsustainable coral harvest destroys coral reefs by net removal of the habitat itself. It also renders the message of conservation dysfunctional: “How can coral reefs be in such dire situation, if I can go to any souvenir shop and buy myself as many corals as I want ?” that is the common question asked by the common folk. 
How can we balance the existence of well-planned, community-managed and small-scale coral harvest which ensures sustainable opportunities for coastal communities in the Philippines (for example), with the need to drastically reduce, or completely eliminate the ongoing unsustainable coral mining?
Perhaps we should all work a bit magic of our own, and put together all the thinking brains in coral-list to find a solution.

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. 
Marine Conservation Biologist
Ocean Research and Conservation Association, Florida USA

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