Proceedings of the International Workshop on Red Coral Science, Management, and Trade: Lessons from the Mediterranean


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Proceedings of the International Workshop on Red Coral Science, Management, and Trade: Lessons from the Mediterranean.


The Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environment and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration convened the International Workshop on Red Coral Science,Management, and Trade: Lessons from the Mediterranean in Naples Italy in September 2009. Scientists, managers, representatives of the coral fishery and manufacturing industries, policy makers, and environmental organizations from Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America attended the workshop. The workshop provided an opportunity to discuss the best available science on the natural history of Mediterranean red coral (Corallium rubrum L.) and how it is managed throughout the region and utilized around the world.

The workshop was the result of deliberations on a 2007 proposal by the United States to list red and pink corals in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES member nations did not adopt the U.S. proposal in 2007. While the international community recognized the conservation needs of these species, questions were raised about species distribution and biology, domestic management practices, product identification, and other issues related to implementation of a CITES Appendix-II listing. The United States held a workshop in Hong Kong in March 2009 to address these issues, with an emphasis on Pacific species. The Naples workshop focused on the Mediterranean red coral,
Corallium rubrum.

Corallium rubrum is widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean Sea and into the neighboring Atlantic Ocean from Portugal to Cabo Verde. It is slow-growing and inhabits a wide depth range from 15 to 600 meters, and possibly even deeper. In shallow waters (between about 15 and 70 meters), C. rubrum colonies grow in caves, crevices, overhangs and other protected interstices in dense patches with as many as 127-1300 colonies per square meter, the majority of which are less than 5 cm tall, with dense patches confined to small areas with large expanses of uncolonized habitat. In deeper waters, between 70 and 130 meters, coral colonies tend to be larger and more dispersed, and typically settle on open surfaces. It is rare to find colonies that reach their historical maximum size of 30-50 cm, except in areas where fisheries have never operated. Below 130 meters, colonies tend to be even larger and less dense.

C. rubrum has been harvested for more than two thousand years. As early as the 1800s, fisherman from Italy, Spain, and France sailed to North Africa in search of new stocks as local areas were depleted. Traditional harvest techniques included free divers and non-selective coral dredges such as the famed St. Andrew’s cross and the “barra italiana,” both of which harvesters dragged across the sea floor to ensnare broken colonies of coral. The invention of SCUBA in the 1950s allowed fishermen to harvest red coral more selectively and efficiently. It also lead to over-exploitation of coral beds within 15-50 meter depth, especially in areas that were inaccessible to coral dredges. As SCUBA technology improved, divers began to harvest down to depths of 100-130 meters. The high value of red coral and the boom and bust exploitation patterns made for unstable yields, with various peaks and drops; the progressive overexploitation of red coral in shallow water forced divers to descend to greater depths in search of new resources. The last major peak recorded lists 100 t in 1978, but since then landings have remained below 30 t, on average.


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