Corals up for protection | Straits Times

DOHA – THE UN wildlife trade body on Sunday was to debate controls on commerce in precious coral, harvested in the Mediterranean and the western Pacific and then crafted into jewellery mainly in Italy.

With finished necklaces retailing for up to US$25,000 (S$34,970), red and pink coral is among the world’s most expensive wildlife commodities.

A proposal to list the deep-water, reef-forming organism under Appendix II of the Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), meeting in Doha until Thursday, would require nations to track exports and show that coral is extracted sustainably. Co-sponsored by the United States and the European Union, the move is opposed by Japan, which last week lobbied successfully to shoot down a bid to ban trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna.

The new measure targets seven species in the Coralliidae family, one growing in the Mediterranean and the others in the western Pacific, including Hawaii. It would also cover another 24 so-called ‘look-alike’ species to prevent accidental harvesting. ‘Some 30-50 metric tons of Coralliidae are harvested annually from the Mediterranean and the Pacific to meet consumer demand,’ said Kristian Teleki, a marine biologist at Sea Web, a conservation group.

Destructive fishing methods and over-harvesting have reduced worldwide catches by at least 85 per cent in the past three decades, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. ‘We need to think in terms of the cautionary principle. The harvesting is happening at such a rate, it is simply not sustainable when you look at the ecology of these organisms,’ said Ms Teleki.

The species take 100 years to reach maturity, but newly discovered beds are often exploited beyond the capacity to reproduce within a couple of years. Unable to source enough coral from the Mediterranean, Italian artisans – centred in Torre del Greco – now get 70 to 80 per cent of their raw material from Taiwan, Japan and other sources in the Pacific, according to a 2004 study. — AFP

Corals up for protection

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