You will probably get a number of responses to this question. Some
will be straight forward and factual and others will be fanatical and
Let me be factual. Certain corals are subject to rigid control based
on international treaties (such as CITES). These treaties make it a
crime punishable by various penalties based on the attitude of the
country doing the punishing. Penalties can range from Ho Hum to heavy
fines and time in prison.
Other corals are subject to controls of various states, provinces or
entities (such as non-profit organizations) and, again punishments
cover a large range. At one time in my research, I counted 21 such
socities/organizations outside the state/country/national
involvement. Most do good work and most are dedicated to preserving
or critical coral reefs.
Corals such as the octocoral (blacks), red, blues and certain
specific corals as staghorn, brain etc each has its own niche in
these control mechanisms but nearly all corals are considered
What you are seeing at the gem shows consists of a number of types
of corals. A fair 90% of it is either bambo or grass coral very
common in the southseas. They are prolific and grow similar to the
grass on a lawn. They are dyed and I do not recommend then because
they easily transfer color.
The remaining 10% at the shows consist of various corals such as
hard calcacious (and normally dead) coral that has been dyed. You
will see ‘black’ coral that is nothing more than hard coral dyed with
various dyes including shoe polish. It is heavy to the hand while
true black corals are all light to the hand like plastic. You will
never see true red coral and mostly never see true black coral at a
gem show unless it is already set in jewelry…and then rarely. Such
coral of any quality is usually sold by the carat and is too
expensive to sell in any quantity.
The true reds and blacks are highly controlled and, while there
remains some uncontrolled poaching of the red in Asia, the rest can
only be acquired by licensed/certified collectors. The black/gold
corals of the Hawaii trench, for example, now comes from 200 feet or
more down and requires specialized diving equipment to acquire. The
reds not as difficult to acquire but must still be controlled. The
amount that can be harvested is also controlled and must be accounted
for. Of course, I’m speaking of such collection is areas that are
members of the international treaties and who care about natural
environment. There are always going to be some nuts who do it outside
I could go on but this is long enough. As for the corals at the
shows, they are cheap, dyed and though they look good, do not make a
strong statement against the environment.
Does selling coral make a market. Well yes it does. But as long as
it is controlled, laws are enforced/adhered to, it is a renewable
resource. Example, here in Florida there is huge amounts of shallow
water black coral (Gorgonian) that Mother Nature harvests with the
storms and piles it on the beaches. In tourist areas, this is raked
up each day and either buried in the sand or taken to the land fill.
Now, you tell me, is it better to use this coral in making jewelry or
burying it in the sand to decay??
Cheers from Don in SOFL