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International Waters: Reef Trade Reform Urged by Scientists

Posteed: Aug. 18, 2010

By John Dawes

“The United States has an opportunity to leverage its considerable market power to promote more sustainable trade and reduce the effects of ornamental trade stress on coral reefs worldwide,” according to a group consisting of 17 scientists from the United States and one from Canada. The group made this statement because international law has failed to protect coral reef organisms, and they feel the latest CITES Conference of the Parties did not take action to regulate trade in key groups of corals.

“Only a few groups of the thousands of coral reef species in the marine ornamental trades are currently listed [in CITES Appendices]. In the meantime, many thousands of other species traded will remain unexamined and unlisted, exacerbated by limited management in source countries,” they said.

Notably, the list of authors excludes any representatives from the ornamental marine trade. This omission could be seen as a missed opportunity, since in addition, there is no indication that a consultation or discussion took place between any of the authors and anyone involved with the aquarium trade or even organizations with a knowledge of the industry.

Banggai cardinalfish
Out-of-date information on the Banggai cardinalfish, plus omission of recent developments, creates a misleading picture of the current situation regarding this species. John Dawes
Had they consulted organizations such as Pro-Vision Reef, Ornamental Fish International or the Marine Aquarium Council—or any of a host of others—the authors could have avoided misleading statements, such as referring to “thousands of coral reef species in the marine ornamental trades,” which is incorrect.

There is also cause for concern with regard to the reference made to populations of the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) “being substantially reduced or eliminated throughout much of the species range.”

The paper on which this is based is some eight years old. Since that time, many positive steps have been taken to monitor and safeguard wild populations of this species, such as the Banggai Cardinal Fish Action Plan (BCF Action Plan), which is backed by the Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Affairs (MMAF) and Indonesian Institute of Oceanology.

“Efforts toward achieving a sustainable Banggai Cardinal Fish (BCF) fishery for conservation of the BCF, and as a local marine resource for the marine aquarium trade, remain strong,” according to Ron and Gayatri Lilley of the Indonesian Nature Foundation (LINI).
This, clearly, is somewhat different from the scenario depicted by the authors.

Better balance could also have been achieved through open consultation with the trade on other factors, such as mortality rates and, very importantly, on the steps that have been and are continually being implemented to improve all aspects of the trade, or on the numerous collaborative efforts that already exist between the industry and the scientific and conservation communities. These are, disappointingly, only afforded a few lines.

Encouragingly, though, the industry is now seen by a larger number of non-trade agencies and governments as part of the solution to a whole range of issues, rather than as the problem, as it has been seen in the past. Had this been acknowledged by the scientists in question, this could have resulted in a better-informed, better-balanced and more helpful all-around contribution.

Reference: Tissot BN, et al. “How U.S. ocean policy and market power can reform the coral reef wildlife trade.” Marine Policy (2010) doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2010.06.002.

CITES Genus-only Coral List Published

Plerogyra sinuosa
Live bubble coral (Plerogyra sinuosa) specimens must be identified to the species level, but dead specimens only need to be identified to the genus level. John Dawes
About eight years ago, the CITES Animals Committee adopted two coral identification lists: one made up of corals that could be identified to the genus level and the other made up of those types that could be identified to the species level. These lists were adopted by the full Conference of the Parties (CoP) of 2002 and eventually circulated via a Notification on April 4, 2003.

From the outset, there have been difficulties with these lists because many corals are extremely difficult to identify to the species level without detailed examination by specialists; something that is impossible to implement at points of entry, such as Border Inspection Posts (BIPs).

A move toward reducing the difficulties occurred at this year’s CoP, with the CITES Secretariat receiving instructions to reissue the original Notification without the list of corals that could or should be identified to species level. This was carried out on June 17, 2010, with the publication of Notification No. 2010/014: “Trade in stony corals—List of coral taxa where identification to genus level is acceptable.”

Interestingly, paragraph three of the Notification also includes the following sentence: “Nevertheless, these taxa should be identified to species level where feasible.”

Coral species
Coral species display a vast array of colors and forms in both nature and aquaria, and coral identification to the species level is notoriously difficult. Ethan Mizer/BowTie Inc.
Thus, the question arises as to who decides whether or not a particular coral taxon can be identified to this level. Is it the BIP staff, the exporter, the importer, the exporter’s Competent Authority, the importer’s Competent Authority or still another? And what if there’s a difference of opinion regarding the appropriate or acceptable level of identification? Presumably, since the Notification lists the genera concerned, it will be acceptable to use just generic names, irrespective of whether or not it is “feasible” to identify a particular coral to species level.

As the list covered by the newly issued Notification is the 2002/2003 list, minus the species-level taxa, it is, obviously, already a little out of date. Conscious of this, CoP 15 also instructed the Animals Committee to update the list. Once this is done and passed on to the CITES Secretariat, the Secretariat will circulate the updated list, hopefully easing the identification process further.

Note: The full list of genera may be accessed at:


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