In the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world, SeaWeb's Asia Pacific program is strengthening voices for ocean conservation by bridging the worlds of marine science, journalism, and public policy. We work to amplify and clarify the messages of local scientists and ocean experts, and to connect journalists and decision-makers to ocean issues and specialists.

We envision an Asia Pacific region where all people will act on the belief that a healthy ocean is vital to human life and a sustainable future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Coral decision reversed: we're not giving up

At this point, you all know that, following a massive lobbying effort by our opponents, the delegates to the CITES convention voted, at the last minute and by secret ballot, to reverse the decision to list Corallium on Appendix II.

I want to emphasize that this only redoubles our commitment to the important work ahead of us on the Too Precious to Wear campaign. We have a lot to be proud of that came out of the conference, particularly in the relationships we built and the way we have connected our name to the issue.

If you did not see it before, here is the press release we issued immediately after the decision:
Conservationists decry move as politically motivated; urge industry and range states to act

(June 15, 2007 - The Hague, The Netherlands) Scientists, conservationists and many government officials expressed outrage when a proposal to protect precious red corals from international trade was reversed today. Delegates voted by secret ballot to overturn their initial decision to list these overfished species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), following a massive lobbying effort by the coral industry and some exporting countries. The proposal initially passed on Wednesday, with 62 countries voting in support of the listing.

Scientists have long called for trade protection for red corals (scientific name: Corallium / AKA: pink corals), with over 2,000 other coral species listed under CITES. Red corals are among the world’s most valuable wildlife commodities, with a finished necklace retailing for up to $20,000. But destructive fishing methods and over-harvesting means global red coral catches have plummeted by 90 percent in the past two decades. The move to reopen the red coral debate on Friday in a plenary session was instigated by Tunisia and seconded by Algeria and Morocco, all coral exporting countries. A secret ballot was requested and despite the proposal receiving support from the majority of delegates present, it fell short of the required two-thirds majority needed for a CITES listing.

Dr. Andy Bruckner, a NOAA scientist and the author of the U.S. proposal to list Corallium, said the outcome was shocking: “Over the past twenty years, overfishing of red coral has put these animals at great risk. A CITES listing would have helped safeguard the species as well as the coral industry. Effective conservation for red coral now requires cooperation by range states to implement appropriate domestic measures, to ensure the survival of these species."

The U.S. responded to the reopening of the debate, saying they had held extensive conversations with red coral-producing nations to construct a proposal that would advance the conservation of the species.

The unusual reversal, which took place after the conference was scheduled to have ended, means the trade in red corals will be allowed to continue unchecked, threatening the species’ survival. There was significant support for the listing from the United States (the largest red coral importer in the world), the European Union (a major exporter), Mexico, the CITES Secretariat, as well as numerous NGOs, including SeaWeb, TRAFFIC, WWF and the Pew Institute for Ocean Science.

Opponents to the red coral proposal, such as Japan, a major red coral trading nation, and industry group ASSOCORAL, referred to an FAO assessment that did not support the listing. SeaWeb stated to delegates at the conference that FAO’s analysis was flawed because it only took into account the remaining number of coral colonies but not their size, which is a more accurate measure of population health.

Dawn M. Martin, president of SeaWeb, the international NGO that originally petitioned the United States to propose the listing, said, “Never before have our oceans been in such peril, and this reversal by CITES delegates, which leaves red corals unprotected, is deplorable. Red corals are threatened by trade and fully meet the criteria for CITES protection. It is now up to consumers and the industry to ensure that we do not love red coral to death. Conscientious jewelers like Tiffany & Co. have already removed precious corals from their product lines, and we urge others to do the same.”

The value of the red coral trade is significant. In 1999 alone, the Italian town of Torre del Greco reported red coral profits of $174 million. The United States, the world’s largest documented importer of red corals, and conservationists said the protection afforded by a CITES listing would have safeguarded the industry for future generations by ensuring trade is non-detrimental to the survival of the species.

Science shows that commercial fishing has decreased the genetic diversity within and among populations, reduced colony densities, and shifted size and age structure to small, immature colonies that are worthless to the red coral trade and unproductive in the ecosystem. In the Pacific Ocean, the destructive fishing method of bottom trawling for red coral is the marine equivalent of clear cutting old-growth forests. There is evidence that coral populations never fully recover after being bottom-trawled, and entire beds of red coral have been depleted within five years of discovery.

Fernanda Kellogg, senior vice president of Tiffany & Co. and president of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, said, “With regard to coral, we believe that coral harvesting as currently practiced is not sustainable and threatens marine ecosystems. We will not use this precious material in our jewelry until harvesting methods have been adopted that ensure the sustainability of coral reefs.”

Martin added, “We will continue to work tirelessly to get these threatened animals the protection they deserve. It is unconscionable when politics and profit stand in the way of science and conservation. SeaWeb’s Too Precious To Wear campaign will continue to advance coral conservation and we will urge the international community to protect these species before it is too late.”

For more information, visit Too Precious to Wear is a program of SeaWeb to create a demand for coral conservation.
I am happy to talk about this more and answer any questions you may have. We are all disappointed, but not surprised. We are fighting big industry interests, but we are going to make a difference, you'll see!

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