Thursday, December 15, 2011

How much to destroy our Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems?

Had to go up to Orono today for "sexual harassement" training. No, I haven't been harassing people, it's required by the state within the first year of employment, and I hadn't yet gone through the torture. On the way back we did take the time to drop by a store a postdoc had put me on to. He mentioned there were corals in there, so I wanted to take a look. Indeed there were.

The above are precious Red Corals, these particular pieces are from Italy. Sadly there is no regulation on trade of Red Corals, there was a move a few years ago to put them on the list (CITES), but it was turned down, primarily from Japan and Italy fighting the move. There are large fisheries for these corals there. Precious red corals are deep-sea corals, so grow very slowly. These pieces here are about an inch each, and constitute probably ~20 years of growth. Being sold for $8.40. That's less than 10 cents a year. Pretty sad. Very sad in fact. You can guarantee these corals were collected live, there were others in there that looked like they were washed pieces collected from a beach, but these were almost certainly a large tree that was cut into pieces, probably as the bulk was carved.

More interestingly there were several large black corals in there. The manager said they came from Haiti. Black corals are CITES listed, so to be able to trade them you have to have a permit. I took photos of the corals and will check up to see if this particular store has a permit. Black corals are potentially the oldest living organisms on the planet - a single black coral collected off Hawaii was recently dated to more than 4000 years old. So it will take 4000 years for another one to grow.

There is no such thing as a sustainable fishery for corals - either tropical or cold-water. These creatures are indeed beautiful, but lets reflect in their beauty by photos, drawings and sculptures, and even pieces collected washed on the beach.

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