Chalk another one up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service! On March 11th, two Taiwanese nationals, Gloria and Ivan Chu, pleaded guilty in a U.S. Virgin Islands federal court to nine counts for conspiring to illegally ship internationally protected black coral into the United States. U.S. Customs’ Contraband Enforcement Team flagged the suspicious boxes labeled “plastic of craft work” in August and December 2009 and x-rayed them to in order to ascertain their contents. The resulting x-ray showed rod-like structures in the packages that were indicative of coral. Upon opening, huge quantities of black coral were found:
The combined effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to the final arrest of Gloria and Ivan Chu in January 2010.The couple was sentenced to each pay a $12,500 fine and serve 20 and 30 months respectively in prison and are barred for three years from shipping coral as well as other wildlife after their prison sentence is complete. The illegal activity ran from 2007-2009 and the Chu’s exported more than $194,000 worth of falsely labeled black coral to an undisclosed company without the required CITES permits. Black coral (family Antipathidae) are one of the few coral groups that can be worked by jewelers into fine jewelry. Typically artisans make it into either sculptures or it’s highly polished and made into inlaid jewelry. It’s a very slow growing coral that only grows by 4-35µm (0.0001-0.001 inches) per year and individual colonies can last for thousands of years; it is an internationally protected coral species due to these characteristics.