As hobbyists, we’ve used to the perception that importing live coral specimens from the wild has a negative impact on coral reef ecosystems in the wild, but new research is actually showing the hobby is actually having a positive impact on the preserving coral reef ecosystems. The research was a joint effort and titled “Long-term trends of coral imports into the United States indicate future opportunities for ecosystem and societal benefits.” The article was published in the December issue of the journal Conservation Letters.
Sifting through over 20 years of data on the live coral trade, the team made up of researchers from Roger Williams University (RWU), Boston University (BU), Conservation International(CI), and the New England Aquarium (NEAq) noted the recent changes in the trade of live corals for the reef aquarium industry are resulting in new opportunities for conservation of corals in the wild.
“The live coral trade offers opportunities for coral reef ecosystem conservation and sustainable economic benefits to coastal communities,” says Andrew Rhyne, lead-author and Roger Williams University assistant professor of marine biology and research scientist at the New England Aquarium.
Through studying the impact live coral collectors had on local reefs, the team discovered local communities are receiving and seeing the economic benefits of the reef and therefore there are more efforts to protect the ecoystem — a renewable and welcome source of income.
“The trade has moved from a wild harvest to mariculture production, a change sparked by long-term efforts to produce a sustainable income to small island countries such as the Solomon Islands and also by the government of Indonesia,” adds Rhyne noting the mariculture practice as providing a sustainable income for local communities as well as a sustainable source of corals for the hobby.
The information in the report has shown that coral trade increased over 8% per year between 1990 until the mid-2000s, and has since decreased by 9% annually — due in part to the global financial crisis. The timing of the peaks and declines of corals shows the trends we’ve seen in the hobby most notably the heavy spike in Acropora imports around 2003-05.
In our opinion, this research is welcome and enlightening especially in light of the proposal from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect 66 stony corals under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This new research on the coral trade shows that done properly, it can provide an economic opportunity for struggling communities as well as a sustainable source of coral for the hobby.
The entire article is available free online at Conservation Letters.