Wild collected corals: To buy or not to buy?


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After searching eBay and finding a http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=002&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&viewitem=&item=120065667565&rd=1&rd=1">coral </a>I really wanted to buy, I found myself at an ethical dilemma.

I'm about 99% sure this coral was collected in the wild off Tonga. Now, I know we should only buy aquacultured corals to preserve our reefs. But then I think, if a nation permits its coral reefs to be harvested, then why not buy it? Even if I didn't buy it, surely someone else will. However, in the end, the only reason I didn't bid on it was due to a conflict of scheduling of when the coral had to ship and when I was available to receive it.

So I'm just curious as to how everyone else feels. Would you buy wild collected fish/corals? Do you guys wonder where all your reef critters came from? There's a decent chance my maroon clownfish pair and one of my favia corals came from the wild.
haha the results show how good we are as a club practicing conservation. Well i have bought wild collected specimens.. I think but i also think i have bought aquacultured specimens. I think if you buy wild animals you should eventually frag them and get them back in the hobby by giving them or selling the frags. I also think that we should try not to buy larger wild collected corals. If we do it should be small frags.
I'm leaning more toward the aquacultured coral. Everything I have in my tank right now started as frags or they are still frags. It can be pretty difficult to find frags or aquacultured colonies of rare coral, so at that time I guess it may be acceptable to cross that line.
yahh all of my corals are frags as well accept for a few which i've had for a while like my galexia and well my mushrooms just do there own thing.
Wild collection has come a long ways. Most people think of cyanide or dynamite corruption to natural reefs. This is not the only way people collect from the wild nowadays. If I had my druthers, and two identical corals were side by side, with one being aquacultured and one being wild- I would surely take the aquacultured, but that is not realistic. I personally feel comfortable buying corals from a respectable store who gets from a respectable supplier, because I was most likely collected in a ethical way. Besides, where do you think 99% of the fish in our aquariums come from- not captive hatcheries.
I've never thought that wild corals were collected by the use of cyanide or dynamite. That's actually news to my ears. I've heard that fish were captured that way, but not corals. I think preservation is what people consider when deciding whether to buy or not to buy wild captured corals.
Of course they dont collect corals with cyanide or dynamite. That was not what I intended to imply. It seems when people think "wild caught", they equate this with a bad thing to do. Why? Wild collection can be as harmless as aquaculturing.
You are correct, wild collection can be harmless. The issue in question here is preservation. How much are we hurting the reefs by break off a colony here and there.
It's only harmless if people collect in a kindley matter like only take frags and not huge colonies. Frags do not hurt the reef's at all. And people shouldnt collect in the same place all the time as well. We need to collect in a different place so they have a chance to regrow.
Seems to be a lot of opinions on the subject.
Keep in mind that each and every coral that is brought into this country is done so with a permit.
There is a World wide organization named CITES which over sees the import of corals and clams.
Each country has its own set of CITES permits, a limit is placed on the number of individuals from each species that can be collected.
Here in the USA, this country is only allowed to export a few soft corals like Gorgonians and polyps because our waters have so many of these animals and few hard corals.
A gang of worldly scientists decides for CITES what's too many and what's sustainable in various geographical locations .
Some countries have lots of a certain species and there for are permitted to remove more of what their reefs can sustain.
Take for instance the Kingdom of Tonga.
Tonga has lots and lots of SPS corals. So many in fact that its difficult to swim anywhere around the islands due to the coral heads being so thick that you cant even wade around without stepping on hundreds.This is one of the reasons so few tongans know how to swim, there are few inshore areas to learn. ...without getting all cut up from acros.
Also keep in mind that The Kingdom of Tonga is comprised of several hundred individual islands and that the collection of corals only takes place on two of these islands due to the difficulties in traveling from one to another( some are hundreds of miles apart)
It is also good to keep in mind that agriculture run off is the number one killer of the reefs. Even on the Great Barrier reef in Austrailia(cattle farms)
The marine ornamental trade is one of the few trades in Tonga which cares about the health of the reefs there.Tourism is almost nil and mainly farming and off shore fishing are the only real industies there.
See a Kava farmer only cares about plowing the soil and growing more plants. When the rains come the soil runs off into the lagoons and onto the reefs. Before the live coral trade, there were few in Tonga who even noticed that the reefs were dying near the farming communities. Now with the live coral industry firmly in place, there are many voices which are directly connected to the health of the corals out on the reef. Its kind like reef farming.

Farmers who make their living from the reefs keep a look out for events which harm the source of their livelihood.

This safe guarding of the reefs doesn't happen unless there are islanders with a vested interest in protecting them.
Growing corals here in the USA kinda takes the islanders out of the loop.
If one day all corals are grown instead of farmed........these same islanders will be forced back to the only other job opportunity on the island which is plowing the dirt and farming.

........just something to think about when comparing the two sources for reef tank live stock.

Mariculture seems to be the best of both worlds.
letting the islanders grow the corals on the islands keeps a watch out for soil run off , because the mariculture farms are in the lagoons near the reefs and the corals grown in lagoons seem to fare better in aquariums due to the similar water conditions ( less pristine)

Any how its a complex issue, just thought I would offer a little extra info to add to the discussion.
CGill311 wrote: After searching eBay and finding a http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=002&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&viewitem=&item=120065667565&rd=1&rd=1">coral </a>I really wanted to buy, I found myself at an ethical dilemma.[/QUOTE]
I think you and I discussed a dilemma once before...:yes:

I think Kalkbreath's comments were absolutely on the money. As a Species... we still have a ways to go to be forever known as the "Conservation Species". However, people usually, eventually learn not to bite the hand that feeds them. Harvesting corals from the wild is not necessarily a bad thing. Just like harvesting trees. If done right, it can be a win for all concerned. Yes there are problems in the world and unscrouplus (sp) crooks. but, reputable people who understand the long term positive cycle really make this a win/win for all of us (see his reply).

Also, this may seem like"ambulance chasing" but many organizations (companies, governments, individuals) are set up (or prepared) to do a lot of harvesting after natural disasters (Hurricanes et al). This is a good thing!!!

As an anology... For many years, good boat building wood had become scarce in this country (clearing, farming, regulations etc...). Wooden boats need old growth, naturally curvey, wood, to be built rugged and strong. Live Oak is some of the best (albeit rare). After hurricane Hugo came through the carolinas, they packed and shipped (and sold at a profit) dozens of train loads of live oak to New England and elseware. It will help for decades...and it was going to die anyway... This was a win/win (given that you had to have a hurricane to begin with).

I have a tank that I am sure is "reef neutral". Everything in it is fragged or captive born. I like it and am proud of it (although i realize that the fraggs came from somewhere). But my other tanks have stuff from all over. I would never (knowingly) buy something that I new to be endangered. but other than that...

BTW, if you eat shrimp or lobster... they aren't farmed....

my $.02 worth

Thanks to Kalkbreath for adding some real insight on how corals are collected and distributed. It's nice to have relevant information so people can make educated decisions, rather than speculate about topics they know nothing about.
Yes, Kalkbreath is quite right in many of his assessments. I LOVE the fact that everyoneis aware that the aquarium trade is not ruining the natural reefs, it is argiculture (in whatever way, shape, or form).

However, the CITES issue is a lot more complex than explained. Most corals are CITES appendix II. What this means, is that they are nto endagered, but could be exploited if not regulated. You do not need an import permit to recieve a CITES II species, but instead, the origin country's management authority must provide a permit legalizing it's collection. Any one of us could import a CITES II species, so long as we buy if from a legitimate and auothorized source. Now, CITES appendix I, on the other hand, usually will not allow import without a permit, in adition to the export permit from the origin country. And import permits are HARD to get. Trust me, my career is in this field, it is hard. CITES I animals are almost NEVER taken from the wild unless it is to promote the species as a whole through captive propogation. NEVER for commercial or finacial purposes. It is even difficult to ship a captive rasied CITES I animal from outside to US to here, because of the stringent nature of these laws.

So, how does this apply to aquarists? Here is the brass tacks- CITES will not allow species to be traded internationally if it is threatened with population issues in the wild (CITES I). If that one species of acropora is so rare and undererpresented in the wild- it will NEVER BE ALLOWED TO BE SHIPPED LEGALLY, unless the recipient can substantially prove it will benefit the wild population to a certain degree. However, if the species is not in danger of population management issues in their native habitat, but management is a concern (CITES II), They will allow it, providing the export country proves it is legally and contientiously managed and collected.
Buying wild caught corals from a respectable and legal source is not endangering the wild coral population as such.

Sorry to bore yo all will such trivia, but as I said, I deal with this issue frequent at my job, so I live/breathe/sleep it. I can provide contact links for such material if anyone wants.
Great additions Kalkbreath, johnqx4, and jmaneypanda. This is a very interesting and informative thread.
All hard corals are covered by CITES, each and every one is imported by a permit quota.
Countries like Vietnam have been trying to import hard corals for years , but because this nation cant seem to complete the proper paper work and jump through the right hoops......corals from that country Even though quite abundant can not be landed into the USA.
Soft corals are so abundant in every collection Country world wide even (Vietnam )that they are not subjected to quotas. Its the rock they are attatched to which is counted as a part of the live rock quotas.
Only anemones and inverts as well as MO fish are not a part of CITES
But dont think no one is watching out for the fish shipments........ even non coral animals are still inspected by The US Fish and Wildlife , US Customs and now even the USDA! inspect evry single shipment of fish and coral into the USA.
I have spent many an hour with the inspectors here in ATL and LAX .... my favorite inspector is inspector Victor. (sic)
Having said this,
I still feel maricaultured and aquacultured corals are better suited to aquarium life and a better choice to purchase then wild collected.
Its just dont pretend that buying captive grown will some how help the wild reefs........It actually hurts the reefs by forcing the natives to work the land instead of the waters.
Hey Kalk:

I think we're saying the same thing. Yes, stony corals are indicated in the cites appendix, but there is a BIG difference between CITES I and CITES II. Stony are CITES II, and as such, we do not need import permits to recieve them. But the shipper in (whatever country) will need to have the permit to export them legally. However, any CITES I animal- bird, mammal, fish (including seahorses), reptile, whatever, will most likely NOT be imported due to the stringent laws. Organizations in the US which are interested in impoting CITES I animals (whether it be from captive stock or from the wild) must meet certain criterion before being issued the permit for import. Some of these criterion include returning said species back to the wild, or participating in extensive in situ conservation in the native lands. There are exemptions to these laws, but they are few and far between for most species.

I cannot comment specifically on your reference to Vietnam, but I would think it was due to the fact of legitimately documenting and veriying the source and collection regaultions. There are marine animals that do come out of Vietnam, including tridacnids nowadays.

In regards to US agency inspection, they branches you mentioned serve different purposes. USFWS typically will be mainly concerned with species identification and origin information to comply with CITES regulations. USDA is usually most concerned about PPQ (or plant, plests, and quarantine) to ensure nothing is imported that could be harmful to native ecosystems. And customs simply wants verification so that you can accurately pay your customs fees. These agencies work hand in hand, but none have any overlap in responsibilities or concentrations. I have oversimplified these agencies responsibilities, but that is the gist of it. By the way, I am not familiar with inspector Victor. Is he here in Atlanta, or am I missing something. I have worked with inspector Bossey, Early, and Landry with USFWS here in Atlanta.

I also agree, that captive corals are likely much better suited for aquarium life than wild collections, for many reasons.

But, I again point to one of my original questions- why do people think wild collection is so bad? I think you and I feel the same way about this, but I am curious as to why others may (or may not) think this.
I can't speak for others, but I personally would feel some guilt in buying wild corals just for the mere fact that I know how slowly it takes for LPS and SPS to grow.

Say it takes 5-10 years for a coral to grow to a suitable collection size. Then it takes 1 minute to collect. Multiply that by thousands of occurences, and it seems like the "kids/young adults" coral population at a particular reef could be wiped out within a decade.

Hopefully, these regulations prevent that from occuring.