Using coral ethical issues

Does anyone know what the ethical issues are regarding
purchasing/using coral in jewelry? At every gemshow there are piles
of it at almost every booth. Is there a dyed version that is OK or
does that just create a market (like ivory) and I’m deluding myself?
Any info would be appreciated


Does anyone know what the ethical issues are regarding
purchasing/using coral in jewelry? 

That would depend in part on what type of coral, and especially how
and where it was obtained. There are various restrictions on removing
corals from some locations, and with some types, that pretty much
includes all the traditional sources. But other types or locations
may not have restrictions. There isn’t, so far as I know, any sort of
global agreement banning or regulating coral use or trade, as there
is with elephant ivory.

At every gemshow there are piles of it at almost every booth. Is
there a dyed version that is OK 

From what I’ve seen, the majority of that red decorative stuff you
see as tons of various beads at the shows, aren’t actually coral.
It’s a fast growing plant called sea bamboo, if I recall, and the
red (or other) color is dye. True corals of decent quality beyond
tiny beads or small baroque twig beads, are not so common. And some
of what you see is not sea bamboo, but dyed (or occasionally, natural
color) shell, which sometimes can closely resemble some types of
coral. Really good examples of red Mediterranean coral has always
been at least somewhat rare, even before the beds were pretty much
depleted and killed off by pollution. Now, pretty much anything you
find for sale is old stocks, not recently obtained.


I was contacted by Too Precious to Wear,

check their website for I am of the opinion that with
all coral under pressure from pollution and human harvesting for
various reasons that I won’t be buying any more but using old stock.
I have no hard science for this decision.

Sam Patania, Tucson


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
the law.

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

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

Wow, that’s fascinating. 22 years ago while on our honeymoon in the
Caymans, my hubby bought me a black coral necklace of woven beads.
(You might know that the town of Hell, Grand Cayman, sits on a black
coral reef.)

That necklace is so very light that, over the years, I’ve sometimes
wondered if it was plastic. Now you’ve put my mind at rest.

Thank you!

I just saw this thread and wondered if my coral is a problem. I
bought a multi-branched black coral piece, about 1 foot long,
several years ago. It is from the Dominican Republic, and I was told
that it was from stuff washed up on shore, and therefor legal for him
to sell. I would like to be able to assure my customers that it truly
is “legal,” that is, if I ever get around to making anything from it.
If it isn’t legal to sell it, I guess it will just continue to look
decorative in my studio. How would I know?

Bev Ludlow
Renaissance Jewelry

Just a bit of for anyone who may come my way - in St.
Lucia, it is illegal to possess any form of hard or soft coral at all

  • beached, worn by sea or other. This includes all sea fans as well.
    The fines are EC$5000 or about US$1750. This is a local law apart
    from us being part of the CITES ban itself.

You do get people selling still - my advice is to contact the local
Fisheries Department or Environment Dept to find out or ask the
Customs Officers at the airport of any country you visit.

The reason all corals are banned for us is that the whole region has
been badly damaged over many years from development, untreated waste
and silting. Taking any coral at all depletes not just our reefs if
it was picked from a reef, but even beached corals are needed to
keep up our beaches. We also have sand mining bans of course as this
wipes out beach defenses in a blink of an eye.

It’s the age old thing of ‘it’s just one piece’, but multiply that
and it becomes a real problem. Personally I am all for sensible
restrictions that don’t directly disadvantage the people who might
have historically made a living or are just looking to make a decent
living. Sometimes this means allowing permits, sometimes it means
long and well funded investments in developing genuinely appropriate
and sustainable alternate industries.

There are also many countries that don’t allow transport of CITES
restricted materials as well as many others, for instance for
agricultural protection - so you may sell a client something that’s
legal in your country, but it may not be legal for them to take it
back into theirs.

Red Mediterranean coral is indeed very hard. to come by today, for
perhaps all the reasons of concern. I read the article about coral
Sam had posted and it makes one realize that with technology, we
have gone beyond the mere adornment uses of natural products on the
planet. That said, coral is still unique and beautiful when used in
jewelry pieces.

There is, in addition to the dyed bamboo-type, a coral from
Indonesia similar to Italian, but of less quality. Looking at a
cabachon or cut piece, the strongest color faces up, with some
color variations and if you were to turn it over, you probably will
see small worm holes and even more color variations ( some white).
The true Mediterranean coral is of different intensities of salmon
to deep red throughout the cabachon or cut piece. The deepest reds
are the most sought after and most expensive.

I used to live in Santa Fe where coral is very much loved and used
by Native Americans and jewelers in general. A lot of turquoise
jewelry is accented with coral, or the look a likes…the best one
(and also pricey… Spiny Oyster Shell). This has taken the place of
natural coral for many jewelers, but one can still find the real
thing…and it is beautiful and distinctive. If you look very
closely, there are tiny fine lines of color variation, or growth
marks…similar to natural ivory.

Last year there was a booth ( from Italy) at the GJX show that had
the real deal! If you find them there again this year, you might
stop and take a look, if only to examine the coral quality. From
what I understand very few families in Italy control the industry and
it is monitored closely.

I have a stash of it that I brought back from Italy more than 15
years ago, and I’m hoping to get a true estimate of it’s carat

Any one out there with this knowledge?

Mary Ann Archer

Please don’t use coral. It takes decades to grow a small piece of
hard coral. Coral provides beach protection, a habitat for sea life,
supports tourism, creates islands, and is a major part of the ocean
ecosystem. Just touching hard coral in the water causes great

Mary I also have a stash of the true blood red coral and some fox
mine turquoise handed down from a uncle and I have had it 30 years.
So I know Both are the real deal. So if you get true estimate of
it’s carat value. I would not mind knowing as well. I just started
cabbing up some. Would like to know what I should be charging.

Thank you
Jen Lane

Mr. Kennedy,

When it comes to new coral I agree with you but in the case where it
is old and harvested decades ago I see nothing wrong with it. Or
should we just let it go to waste. Sorry but I am in the habit of not
wasting anything. Sorry but it’s a native thing. And trust me I do
know the important of coral and the dangers as well. I live on a very
small Island. 90 mile north of Cuba. I push my wheel chair through
the coral gravel that makes up my yard. And I have had the staff
infections from a little scratch from coral. I also swim on the reef
that is 1 1/2 miles from my back yard and see the beauty and the
destruction mostly from tourist who think it would be so cool to
take home a souvenir. Or do not have a clue that those large white
things floating on the reef are meant to be used to tie up their
boat, that you do not anchor on a reef. More coral is destroyed that
way. Then from a few jewelers using very old coral to create a work
of art and a way of showing the beauty of what nature has provided
us. There is more then enough old material out there to keep us all
busy. Recycle old jewelry or restore it. And do not buy new harvested
shell or coral. Anyway that’s my two cents worth on it. Hope it does
not offend its not meant to.

Best wishes
Jen Lane

Kennedy. I am sorry I could not respond to your appear earlier but I
just returned from Tucson.

I understand and agree with you that coral does a great deal of
things on this planet of ours and it is an extremely valuable
environmental item. However, using your concept, we should not be
cutting any stones, using any noble metals or making anything of
anything. Why? Because everything we use in making jewelry, art or
whatever, causes great damage to our planet.

I believe if you have read my recent blog on coral (in this case,
black coral but it applies to other coral as well) there are ways to
use these resources sensibility and in a manner that the
environment/ecosystem sustains no damage whatsoever. For example, I
mentioned that here in South Florida, the beaches are raked every day
to remove all the seaweed, stones, sticks and…coral that has been
deposited the night before by high tide. This material which often
contains the precious black coral is either buried or trucked to the
land fill.

So, which will it be…use that which Mother Nature has provided or
let it rot?

Cheers, Don in SOFL