(DOHA)—Parties to the
Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) are ready to consider
again a United States proposal to list red and pink corals on Appendix
II of the Treaty. Black corals are already listed on Appendix II of
CITES and that listing has improved the ability of CITES parties to
monitor the trade.
The demand for coral jewelry is
driving coral populations to extinction and the U.S. is the biggest
consumer. Supplies have declined over 80% since the mid 1980s;
Mediterranean precious corals are almost gone; Pacific populations, if
not already depleted, are exhausted 4-5 years after discovery.
Previously harvested beds are now dominated by small, immature
colonies, yet even the smallest pink coral specimens are collected,
ground into coral powder, mixed with resin, and made into jewelry.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
brought this proposal forward at the 2007 meeting of the Conference of
the Parties in The Hague. “It was narrowly defeated in the last minutes
of that meeting due to a lot of misinformation and high pressure
tactics by the industry,” said Linda Paul, Director of International
Programs for Earthtrust, a member of the Species Survival Network.
“This time it is even more urgent that the proposal be adopted.
Two technical meetings
were held in 2009, one in Hong Kong and the other in Rome, at which new
evidence was presented indicating that red and pink corals grow 2-3
times more slowly than previously reported. It may take
a hundred years
for them to reach their maximum reproductive potential.
As deep sea harvesting technology
continues to become more advanced, even very deep coral are likely to
become depleted. “Sustainable harvesting of precious corals is not
possible,” said Paul. “Coral harvesting is mining, not fishing. The use
of trawls, dredges and tangle nets to collect the deeper-dwelling
species destroys entire coral beds and their associated ecosystems.
Depleted areas may take hundreds of years to recover.”
Although the Western Pacific Regional
Fisheries Management Council has a coral harvesting plan for the
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands it has never been implemented. That area
is now a protected marine national monument and off-limits to
commercial coral collectors. Nevertheless it is feared that poaching by
foreign fishing vessels may still be occurring there.
Approximately 70% of the raw product
comes from the Pacific, but the exact locations are unreported and
unknown. In 1985, 100 tons were poached by foreign fishing vessels
around Gardiner Pinnacles and Laysan Island. Recent photographs of the
bottom habitat taken by a deep sea submersible in the Emperor Seamounts
in the US EEZ indicate that that this area was dredged for corals as
well. The habitat is littered with broken and dead coral rubble. “The
poachers were never caught in the act because enforcement in the
Pacific Ocean is very difficult and very expensive,” said Paul.
Enforcement is only possible when the
coral product enters into trade, usually at some port of entry.
However, there are no international trade controls or comprehensive
monitoring programs for red and pink corals and they are not managed by
UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) or any regional fisheries
management organization. This is the responsibility of CITES, which has
a mandate to regulate trade in threatened species.
Listing red and pink corals on CITES
Appendix II will not ban the trade in these corals, but it will require
that the exporting State make a formal declaration that the corals
being shipped were not taken from a location or in a manner that is
detrimental to the long-term survival of the species.
Seven red and pink coral species are
globally traded, but since identification to species level is not
possible in finished products, the entire family, more than 30 species,
has been proposed for listing on Appendix II.