Coral Reef NOAA
May 27, 2016  

CITES Vote Falls Short for Red and Pink Coral

An underwater image of live pink coral. The coral looks like the veins in a partially decomposed leaf.
A Corallium colony on the ocean floor. Photo credit: NOAA

For the second time, nations participating in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) failed to gather enough votes to implement increased protections for red and pink corals. No countries currently have comprehensive management plans for these coral species and a CITES listing would have encouraged nations to develop these plans. In 2007 at the 14th Conference of the Parties (CoP), the US had proposed listing Corallium species under Appendix-II. The proposal was initially adopted but then reopened for debate during the plenary session and narrowly defeated. This year, the US and Sweden (on behalf of the European Union) together submitted a proposal to provide greater protection to these species of corals by listing them under CITES Appendix-II. Had it been successful, the proposal would have limited trade of red an pink coral to legally and sustainably harvested coral and coral products. The proposal covered approximately 31 described species and several undescribed species of red and pink corals. Although the proposal received a simple majority of votes, it did not receive the two-thirds majority needed for adoption (64 votes in support, 59 votes in opposition, and 10 abstentions).

Jewelry and carved artwork made from red and pink coral have a prominent place in Mediterranean and other cultures. Found mainly in the seas of the Mediterranean and Pacific, these corals have been harvested for centuries; however with the development of technologies like SCUBA and remotely operated vehicles, coral beds that had previously been inaccessible are now being exploited at a faster rate than their populations can sustain. Increasing evidence is also showing that all corals, including Coralliidae, are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and warming ocean temperatures appear to be having a detrimental effect.

These corals have many qualities that make them particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation. They are slow-growing, have long life spans, they are attached to the seafloor and are not mobile, and they take many years to reach reproductive maturity. Studies have shown that trade is having an adverse impact on red and pink corals' ability to maintain healthy populations and to reproduce. Since the 1980s, red and pink coral gardens have decreased in size, structure, and overall number of polyps by more than 60-70 percent.

To learn more, visit the Red and Pink Coral page on the US CITES Website. Proposals to list five shark species, Atlantic bluefin tuna, and polar bears were also rejected during the voting process.