Coral Reef NOAA
May 28, 2016  

Coral Used in Jewelry May Get International Protection

The picture is composed of three images.  Left: Live Corallium (bushy red coral with lighter tips) growing upside down on a rock outrcopping in the deep-sea. Top right: Corallium being harvested.  Before polishing, it looks reddish orange and chalky. Bottom right: Red jewelry made of polished Corallium on display in a jewelry case.
Left: Live red coral in the deep-sea. Top right: Red coral being harvested. Bottom right: Red coral jewelry. Photo credits: G. Tsounis, NOAA, and Devin Harvey/Marine Photobank, respectively.

At a major meeting on international trade in endangered species in March, participating nations will make a final decision whether to support improved protections for red and pink coral.

Found mainly in the seas of the Mediterranean and Pacific, red and pink corals (known to scientists as Coralliidae), are primarily threatened by intensive harvesting to supply international demand for jewelry and other products.

Jewelry and carved artwork made from red and pink coral have a prominent place in Mediterranean and other cultures. 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.

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 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.

In early February, 2010, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat recommended support for increased trade protection for red and pink corals. The United States and the European Union together are proposing to list red and pink coral under Appendix II of the Convention. This proposal will be decided at the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP 15) in Doha, Qatar, March 13-25, 2010. If approved by this month's vote, trade of red and pink corals would still be be allowed, but only trade of legally and sustainably harvested coral and coral products.