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

Sarah Frias-Torres sfrias_torres at hotmail.com
Tue Oct 21 15:27:28 EDT 2008

thank you for sharing all this information with coral-list. 
In my initial post, there was no bashing of institutions or international treaties. I explained what I have seen at shell shops in Florida.
I have visited so many I have lost count, and every time I ask the people selling corals about CITES, I only get blank stares. The folks from US FWS at the main US airports do all they can, considering they are overworked and understaffed. I don't think they can confiscate all the shipments without valid CITES permits. They simply do not have all the manpower and resources required. And this is assuming the shipment left the country of origin with the required CITES documentation. The same occurs at many European airports. Spanish airports are notorious for their minimal, almost invisible control of such imports (you see? I spread my frustration evenly....a.k..a. I have a Spanish passport). 
CITES is valuable, I did not question it. However, I don't see a clear consequence for every CITES listing. Indeed CITES is a good first step, but it is a step that highlights how much there is left to do, not only for a stonger emphasis on CITES permits, but also for direct actions that each country can take on imports, from increasing the resources available to intercept and confiscate invalid shipments, to educating people on the consequences of sustaining such kind of trade (the economics of offer and demand). 
On a side note,  the story of the seahorse trade is large and complex. It is worth commeting Dr. Amanda Vincent's work at UBC, Canada as founder of Project Seahorse, and her efforts to balance seahorse trade and sustainable community use in the Philippines. That is probably an example to follow for corals. If you read my post carefully, you can see I made a clear distinction between unsustainable coral harvest, and community-oriented well-planned sustainable harvest. The first only puts money in the pockets of the same rich people and contributes little to the local economies. The second is the one that allows a sustainable income for the local communities, the solution promoted by Project Seahorse.

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. 
Marine Conservation Biologist
Ocean Research and Conservation Association, Florida USA
 > From: bruckner at livingoceansfoundation.org> To: sfrias_torres at hotmail.com; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> Subject: RE: [Coral-List] THE HARRY POTTER CORAL RE: Coral collection vs farming> Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2008 14:37:19 -0400> > Dear Sarah and coral-listers.> > While we all recognize the problems associated with the trade in coral reef> species, each of the previous postings on this subject highlighted many of> the concerns and issues surrounding both the curio and live trade, so I am> not going to get into the debate regarding whetehr or not corals should be> in trade. I think it is incorrect to state that CITES has not helped> promote a more sustainable trade in corals, and wanted solely to clarify> some of Sarah's points on the value of CITES. > > To export in a CITES Appendix II listed species, shipments must include a> valid CITES permit (if the country is a party to CITES) or a similar type of> permit for no-CITES Parties. These permits are issued by the CITES> management Authority in the country of export, based on guidance from their> CITES Scientific Authority (who is supposed to make a nondetriment finding> which includes an allowable quota or some other measure to ensure the trade> will not threaten the survival of that species or its role in the> ecosystem). While there are problems with these findings (due to> limited/inadequate management, lack of information on the status of the> resource, lack of monitoring, inadequate science to determine how many> corals can be harvested etc.), it is a first step to regulate the levels of> trade. The U.S. and other countries will confiscate the shipment if it does> not include valid CITES permits, and the US has done this on multiple> occasions. > > CITES allows each country that is a Party to the Convention to take more> stingent steps as they see fit to assist in conservation, such as the> requirement of import permits - but the particular steps are up to each> country. For example, the US does not require import permits, while the EU> does. The EU also has legislation that allows them to prohibit shipments of> CITES Appendix II listed species if they feel that the finding made by that> exporting country is wrong. The EU has one this twice (1999, 2007) now with> corals coming from Indonesia, and currently something like 9 genera of> corals cannot be sent from Indonesia to the EU countries. The US does not> have this ability at this time. In addition, some countries (the> Philippines) have implemented a ban in export of any CITES listed species,> so any coral, seahorses, humphead wrasse and giant clams that come out of> the Philippines have been illegally exported. > > The listing of a species is only the first step in their conservation. It> will force a country to adopt some sort of management (quota etc.) for the> resource and it requires that they determine what level of trade is> non-detrimental. It also requires that both importing and exporting> countries provide annual reports on the total trade in CITES listed species> - while this may not include illegal harvest/trade, it has provided valuable> data on the amount of trade for species whose trade was not previously> monitored. > > One of the difficulties for countries when a species is listed (seahorses> are a good recent example) is that they often don't have the information> needed to make a NDF, or they lack the capacity to implement a management> plan (since many of these exporting countries are developing countries). To> address this problem in seahorses, a committee developed an interim measure> (seahorses must reach a minimum size) that would allow countries the ability> to keep trading while protecting a portion of the resource (e.g., allowing> them to reach sexual maturity and reporduce at least once before harvest),> until they can implement more thorough management approaches. Seahorses were> added to CITES mainly because of overexploitation associated with the> Traditional Chinese Medicines (about 20-30 million animals per year or over> 70 metric tons dried!), and less so to address the curio and live trade> (which is in the range of hundreds of thousands of animals, including> captive bred animals for aquaria). One of the largest problems with> seahorses is that they are easily transported in personal luggage -> thousands can fit in a suitcase and unfortunately the US (or other> countries) just does not have the capacity to inspect each piece of personal> luggage.> > The real importance of CITES occurs 5 or so years after a species was> listed - when a Signficant Trade Review is undertaken. This step includes an> examination of the management plan, monitoring program, population status,> threats, harvest and trade of the species under review for each range state.> The committee that evaluates these will identify countries of low, medium> and high concern (based on the adequacy of their management plan and> non-detriment findings, and any knowledge on how well the species is doing).> For countries of medium and high concern, they will present recommendations> to a country on steps they need to take, and also a time frame for> implementing those steps. If the country fails to address the problem, CITES> can implement a ban in trade from that country. This was recently done for> queen conch, and it resulted in temporary bans in trade from several> countries, as well as a multiyear process evalauting options to improve> regional management.> > While there are many problems with CITES (in addition to the difficulties in> getting permits to transport specimens for scientific research), this is the> only international tool we currently have to address unsustainable trade in> coral reef species. In the US, we do not have legislation that would allow> us to ban imports of coral reef species, unless they were illegaly> acquired/traded or there is some other Lacey Act violation. Without CITES,> there would be no other legal binding international treaty that regulates> trade. > > I was also a bit confused about all this "magic transformation" that is> occurring. Just because something is listed as a curio or souveneir, doesn't> mean it can be exported/imported without a CITES permit. Curio or souveneir> may reflect the code included on the permit (for corals, informationis> included on whether it is live or dead, and whether it is traded as a piece> (live in water) or by weight (dried skeletons). Perhaps (probably?) many> shipments get in illegally, without appropriate permits, but US FWS does a> commendable job inspecting the thousands of boxes of fishes corals and other> animals that come into the US each year(given their small staff of> enforcement officers). A trip to one of the ports (e.g., Miami or Los> Angeles) will give you a much better understanding of what they are up> against -these ports see thousands of crates of wildlife each day, many of> which are alive and must be processed immediately so the animals/plants> don't die. Not only are they responsible for identifying and verifying> CITES vs non CITES animals and plants, and ensuring the permits are all in> order, they need to verify the identification of species, for all wildlife> both in raw and prcocesed form. Just considering corals, this is not an> easy task especially when they are live and in a bag of very murkey water.> They have also successfully prosecuted several violations for illegal trade> in coral reef species over the last decade, including a large ring of> illegal coral trade from the Phillipines (destined for the shell shops in> Florida). I am sure illegal shipments unintentially slip through the> cracks, but instead of criticizing their effectiveness, it seems to me that> a better approach would be to support what they are trying to do and support> their requests for increased staff so they can do their job.> > There has been some talk about coral mariculture -there are now dozens of> coral farms in southeast Asia and south Pacific growing corals for> international trade(mostly aquarium organisms) . At this time, CITES has not> adopted a reporting code that separates corals produced on these farms from> wild harvested corals, so they are all being reported as "wild" (or at least> they are supposed to be reported as such). While this has a disadvantage> from a data perspective, it also does not help promote this alternative, as> there are no obvious benefits for the "farmer" in terms of CITES> requirements. However, we have also seen a disparate number of approaches> to coral farming, ranging from environmentally friendly practices (e.g., 3rd> generation frags are exported, with broodstock maintained on the farm and no> additional harvest needed from the wild) to "psuedo-wild harvest" (whole> colonies are removed from the reef, fragmented and attached to a base, and> shipped out within days to weeks with a claim that they are "farm-raised").> Until there are international guidelines for best practices in coral> mariculture, and some way to ensure that "registered" farms adhere to the> guidelines, I don't think it would be appropriate to report these as> ranched, maricultured etc. I do think we need to work together to address> both unsustainable wild harvest and to improve/standardize practices> implemented by coral farms. Several years ago NOAA led a workshop in> Indonesia to develop sustainable guidleines for wild harvest, which also> included recommendations on approaches to assess and monitor coral> collection areas to determine sustainable levels of harvest. The approaches> were tested in Indonesia, but there still is inadequate capacity to carry> out the detailed assessments that would be needed to really verify if their> current quotas are in fact sustainable. Some of this will be evaluated at an> upcoming CITES workshop in Mexico this November- where experts will review> how countries are making non-detriment findings for a whole range of species> including corals, giant clams, black coral and queen conch, with the goal of> coming up with more science-based approaches to make NDFs that are> meaningful and will be more likely to promote sustainable harvest of coral> reef species and all other wildlife as well. > > While many folks may be opposed to the trade in coral reef species for> curios and aquaria, there are both costs (e.g. environmental damage) and> benefits (sources of income in developing countries)that need to be> considered. Unless the US adopts new legislation to address some of these> concerns, the best we can do at this time is to support existing> conservation efforts and international treaties, and work with relevant> groups to address the deficiencies, instead of just bashing them. Its not an> easy task, but banning the trade is also not the answer. > > Andy > > Andy Bruckner> Chief Project Scientist> Living Oceans Foundation> 8181 Professional Place, Suite 215> Landover, MD 20785> OFC: 301-577-1288> FAX: 301-577-1288> bruckner at livingoceansfoundation.org> www.livingoceansfoundation.org> > > -----Original Message-----> From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Sarah> Frias-Torres> Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 12:47 PM> To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> Subject: [Coral-List] THE HARRY POTTER CORAL RE: Coral collection vs farming> > > > 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.> http://www.cites.org/eng/disc/text.shtml#IV> 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> _______________________________________________> Coral-List mailing list> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list> 

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