[Coral-List] Worst places to harvest coral for aquarium trade

David Fisk davefisk at gmail.com
Wed Apr 12 08:45:00 EDT 2017

I would like to add to this ever expanding topic, and the excellent post
from Andrew Rhyne, by pointing out further complexities of the trade not
yet raised in this thread. I think there has to be an holistic approach to
the whole subject, not just the issue of coral species and 'worst places'
to harvest.

I had some involvement in the aquarium trade in the Pacific in the early
2000's when these complex issues were starting to become apparent. At the
time an organisation called MAC (Marine Aquarium Council) was on the scene
trying to establish an accreditation scheme and a chain of custody system
to trace aquarium exports from Pacific countries, among other objectives.
MAC apparently ceased operation in 2008 (see article from the petcha
website (
but the MAC web site is also the still online.

The issues back then are the same as today in many ways, particularly
issues that not only relate to coral exports but also to associated
tropical aquarium products and species, for example,

   - the industry is continuously changing with respect to demand and to
   some extent supply; it therefore requires constant monitoring and
   flexibility in management approach;
   - the use of transit locations (and lumping of specimens from a number
   of sources) on route to major markets that tend complicate the chain of
   custody track;
   - the demand by hobbyists for more unusual and exotic species and forms
   which usually means high demand (ie high price) for relatively rare
   specimens, some of which are keystone reef species, like cleaner fish and
   - the demand for rare species changes over time with trends in buyer
   - the relative rarity of specimens is sometimes subject to their
   availability in the countries of origin and the countries from where the
   major shipping ports are located; that is, a species that may be rare in
   one major export port, may be common in another less accessible country, so
   country specific quotas and management are required;
   - problems of export inspections that are usually done by customs staff
   ill equipped to cross check the identification of species bound for export
   and labelled by the exporter;
   - the use of 'nicknames' for coral species that are often lumped into
   very broad and diverse groupings, thereby making specific species or even
   generic level tracking impossible;
   - the high demand for "coral rock" that provides a natural substrate or
   backdrop to the live corals and animals; these are often sourced 'wild'
   from reefs, or they can be artificially produced (like some Fiji operators
   did back then) but which also used rubble to build the substrate pieces;
   - the potential for collateral impacts from "coral rock" sourced wild
   from the reef, which contained numerous smaller invertebrates that were
   cleaned from the rock before export (and the volumes involved were not
   trivial), though some small scale estimates from that time suggested it was
   relatively sustainable.

These are just a few of the issues I knew of back then. The idea of an
accreditation organisation like MAC is a reasonable approach to address
many of these complex issues, so like the above petcha article suggests,
maybe that is one solution.

Buyers of coral reef aquarium products could then have some trust that they
are buying sustainable products. I think the majority of hobbyists are
happy to pay more for this reassurance.

Dave Fisk

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