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Wildlife Trade Specialists

Published 23rd March 2009

Pink or red?—experts debate corals’ future

Hong Kong, China, 23rd March, 2009—coral experts met last week in Hong Kong to discuss ways to stop the over-exploitation of pink and red corals in the world’s oceans. 


Red coral items command high prices, but over-exploitation is placing many coral colonies at risk © Crawford Allen / TRAFFIC  

Millions of items and thousands of kilograms of red and pink coral—those in the genus Corallium—are traded internationally each year as jewellery and in other collectables. 

“Commercial harvest has been so extensive that it has decreased the genetic diversity in some populations of Corallium,” said Ernie Cooper of TRAFFIC North America. 

“It has removed the large mature colonies, which may be hundreds of years old, and created populations dominated by small, immature colonies.” 

Corallium species have life-histories that make them particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation: they are long lived, extremely slow growing, late maturing and have low fecundity. 

Additionally, equipment used to harvest Corallium in some areas is non-selective, destructive and also destroys the invertebrate species dependent on the corals as a substrate. 

In June 2007, Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) narrowly failed to list Corallium in Appendix II of the Convention. 

It followed a secret ballot that overturned the original decision to list the corals. 

An Appendix II listing would have required countries to have appropriate CITES documentation accompanying Corallium shipments, thereby helping efforts to regulate the international trade. Parties to CITES next meet in 2010, when Corallium could again be on the agenda.

The recent meeting of coral experts also discussed the need to create an identification guide to precious corals. 

“If enforcement officers can’t identify the coral items in trade, they can’t enforce the appropriate regulations, and the much needed conservation of these animals won’t be possible.” commented Cooper.