Table of Contents
Coral Reef Crisis: Causes and Consequences
Can Ecosystem Management of Coral Reefs be Achieved?
Global Solutions to Global Trade Impacts?
Download PDF version of this report (507 kb)
Global Solutions to Global Trade Impacts?
Coral reefs are some of the most productive and diverse ecosystems on Earth. Although they occupy less than 0.25 percent of the marine environment, reefs support more than a quarter of all known fish species (Bryant et al., 1998). Coral reefs are an example of a highly complex and interconnected ecosystem. The rich complexity found in the reef ecosystem is a result of the evolution of many symbiotic associations which couple photosynthesis with processes that increase the retention of limited nutrients within the system. Despite their high gross productivity, reefs rely on a fairly closed nutrient cycle that yields little surplus production for extraction. They serve as critical habitat for numerous tropical species, provide storm and wave protection for coastal communities, and yield renewable resources for human populations around the globe. Yet these same human populations, often in areas of rapid development and growth, are placing increasing stress on these vulnerable ecosystems, due to various economic and social pressures.
Coral reefs now face a multitude of anthropogenic stressors. According to a 1998 World Resources Institute report, nearly 58% of the world's reefs are at risk from a range of human activities ’Äì global warming, marine pollution, coastal development, destructive fishing practices, overexploitation of resources, disease, runoff from improper land-use practices ’Äì and many have been degraded beyond recovery (Bryant et al., 1998). The study concluded that overexploitation of resources, destructive fishing practices, and coastal development pose the greatest potential risks. The international trade in coral, reef fish, live rock, and other reef organisms also contribute significantly to the decline and degradation of reefs.
These stressors have a cumulative and synergistic effect on reef health, and often occur in countries that lack the institutional or financial capacity or political will to mitigate them. Thus, it falls upon the international community to continue to mobilize funding, foster cooperation, monitor trade, and provide expertise to coral range countries if the reefs are to recover and thrive in the 21st century. This paper focuses on the role of international trade, and multilateral and domestic efforts to regulate and control that trade.
The Role of International Trade
Coral reef species are traded as a variety of products in numerous international markets, including live reef food fish, traditional food fish, curios, traditional medicines, live marine ornamentals, coral and live rock for aquaria, limestone production, and construction materials. Each of these arenas has its own set of issues, management regimes, and industries but all are subjected to some degree of international control or scrutiny. The impact of international trade on coral reefs relative to other stressors (pollution, bleaching events, etc.) is not well quantified, but the fragility of reef ecosystems means that even secondary threats cannot be ignored. In fact, the partners within the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) adopted a resolution in the fall of 1999 recognizing that "international trade in corals and coral reef species is contributing to the stresses on these systems."
The best available information on trade in coral species listed under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a recent study by The World Conservation Monitoring Center. Analysis of CITES records for black corals (from 1982-1997) and stony corals (from 1985-1997) revealed that 70 nations imported a total of 19,262 tons from 120 exporting nations over this period (Green and Shirley, 1999). The trade in dead coral peaked in the early 1990s but has since declined to levels comparable with the mid-1980s. The decline in trade is due to a number of factors including an export ban on dead coral from the Philippines, the primary source of coral in the 1970s. However, the quantity of corals traded live for the marine aquaria market has increased tenfold from 1985 to constitute more than half of the global trade in 1997, between 600-700 tons, and is continuing to increase 20-30% each year.
The live food fish trade is centered in Hong Kong, which imports a variety of species from Southeast Asia and the South Pacific archipelagoes at a wholesale value of $500 million per year (Lau and Parry-Jones, 1999). Specimens imported to Hong Kong are also re-exported to China, but little or none of this trade currently affects the U.S. (Lau and Parry-Jones, 1999). The U.S., however, does import significant amounts of traditional food fish (e.g., shrimp, spiny lobster, and queen conch) from coral reef ecosystems and thus has a responsibility to participate in their conservation as well.
The U.S. is a significant part of the curio and marine ornamentals industry: we import more than 80% of the stony coral in trade, and more than 50% of the marine aquarium fish (Anonymous, 2000). This trade is growing by 10-20% per year (Green and Shirley, 1999) and could have a substantial impact on reef health in the coming decade. In addition to a lack of science-based sustainable management, the marine ornamentals industry continues to experience destructive fishing practices (e.g., sodium cyanide use), harvest of multiple age classes within species, and poor survivability of traded specimens. The magnitude and growth of the U.S. market in the marine ornamental industry over the last decade all indicate that the U.S. should take a leading role in promoting sustainable use of coral reefs within range countries. As discussed below, several U.S. initiatives and international agreements with U.S. involvement are working toward this end.
Means to Address International Trade
The problems identified above are addressed in a number of arenas, including capacity building, cooperative management and planning, international regulation, and domestic U.S. measures. Each of these approaches addresses a slightly different aspect of international coral reef trade, and each has benefited from U.S. participation. This paper will note all of these areas, but will focus on the regulation of international trade, in both a CITES and non-CITES context.
The U.S. remains committed to building the capacity for marine resource conservation in developing nations, particularly those that are coral reef range countries. Tropical marine ecosystems are crucial to our development plans in food security, the environment, economic growth, health, disaster mitigation, biodiversity conservation, and climate change (Anonymous, 2000). Many U.S. government agencies have committed funds and personnel to this effort, including the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Anonymous, 2000). Agency programs often focus on training or personnel loans to promote and implement coastal zone management, marine park administration, law enforcement, institutional decentralization, and fishery retraining. In addition, funds may be provided for partnerships with governments, non-governmental organizations, and academia.
International Cooperative Management
Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. has taken an increasingly active role in international fora aimed at coral reef conservation. These include the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI, an intergovernmental negotiation and planning forum), the Convention on Biological Diversity (which the U.S. has signed but not yet ratified; it includes active discussions over destructive fishing practices on coral reefs), the International Queen Conch Initiative, North American Wildlife Enforcement Group, World Customs Organization, ICPO-Interpol, Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the South Pacific Regional Environment Program. Most of these fora have focused on means to identify and reduce destructive fishing practices in tropical systems (e.g., sodium cyanide fishing), and the U.S. has participated actively through the commitment of funds, personnel, and expertise.
International Trade Regulation -- CITES
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) remains the primary instrument for monitoring and regulating trade in wildlife, including coral reef organisms. CITES is the only international legal mechanism with the mandate to protect species from overexploitation due to international trade. The opening paragraph of the Convention explicitly recognizes that each species of wild fauna and flora is an integral component of the natural ecosystem in which it is found, and it acknowledges that wild fauna and flora are to be conserved in perpetuity, in the wild. The ecological principles underlying this statement are reflected in Article IV of the treaty, which provides for its scientific underpinning.
There are now 154 countries that are Parties to CITES, making it one of the most extensive international agreements for species conservation and protection. CITES currently affects international trade in over 30,000 species of plants and animals. Over 2000 species of hard coral (all Scleractinia, organ pipe, fire, and blue coral), ten species of giant clams (Tridacnidae), and one conch species (Strombus gigas) are included in Appendix II of CITES, in addition to several non-reef building coral species. However, no species of coral reef fish are listed under CITES.
CITES entered into force more than 25 years ago, and benefits global species conservation through required scientific and management findings and action, annual species-specific trade statistics, international oversight on range country resource management, and a system of dual control in exporting and importing countries.
CITES offers three different levels of protection and regulation for listed species. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction, which are or may be affected by international trade; commercial trade in these species is prohibited. Appendix II includes species that may become threatened if their trade is not brought under control. Commercial trade in Appendix II species is subject to regulation, and is allowed only if permits are obtained stating that trade will not be detrimental to the species. Appendix III includes species that are listed unilaterally by range countries, which require international cooperation in monitoring trade; commercial trade is permitted. All coral reef species covered by CITES are currently in Appendix II, which places obligations on both exporting and importing Parties. The treaty requires that each signatory nation establish a CITES Management Authority (to issue permits and perform certain other duties) and a CITES Scientific Authority (to monitor biological sustainability of trade).
CITES Article IV
Article IV of CITES provides the supporting framework and flexibility to scientifically evaluate the management of listed species ’Äì the very core of CITES. The export of Appendix II species requires a management finding that specimens to be exported were all obtained legally; it also requires a scientific finding that the export of the specimen(s) is not detrimental to the survival of that species. Once trade is underway, the status of the species must be monitored to ensure that it is maintained throughout its range at a level consistent with its role in the ecosystem.
All exports of specimens of CITES Appendix II species must comply with Article IV, which requires a two-tiered analysis for determining whether trade is biologically and ecologically sustainable. The first tier, Article IV paragraph 2(a), requires that the Scientific Authority determine that an export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species. The second tier, Article IV paragraph 3, further provides that the Scientific Authority must monitor the status of the species to ensure that it is maintained throughout its range at a level consistent with its role in the ecosystem and well above the level at which the species might become eligible for inclusion in Appendix I (which prohibits all trade). Conservation of species and their functional roles within the ecosystem would benefit from integrally linking Article IV paragraph 2(a) and a thorough implementation of Article IV paragraph 3 by the Parties; this is sorely lacking in most all cases.
Since Appendix II coral species constitute and create critical reef habitat, their abundance and health affects the overall vitality of the reef ecosystem. The linkage between Article IV paragraph 2(a) and paragraph 3 provides a check and balance mechanism to ensure sustainability of the Appendix II species in trade, and thereby the sustainability of the coral reef ecosystem. As the Scientific Authority fulfills its obligations under Article IV paragraph 3, non-detriment findings under Article IV paragraph 2(a) should take into account this scientifically based assessment of the species' role within its ecosystem and of the management of natural resources within the entire harvest site. Of course, it is a significant scientific challenge to effectively implement Article IV for coral species. There are uncertainties with regard to the biological and ecological sustainability of exploitation of coral reef ecosystem species, and controversy over the taxonomy of stony corals in the trade. Nevertheless, the listing of reef-building corals on CITES Appendix II was a decision of the CITES Conference of the Parties based on much conservation foresight, and provides unique opportunities and challenges to fully implement the scientific requirements of the treaty, by necessitating concomitant consideration of Article IV paragraphs 2 and 3.
Although these represent relatively simple concepts, such mandates require exporting countries to first develop and then examine, revise, or overhaul national management programs for listed species. Without robust and reasonable management schemes in place, range countries find it difficult to explain their permitted export levels, national licensing systems, or harvest quotas to other bodies within CITES.
Importing countries must ensure that each shipment is accompanied by a valid CITES export permit or refuse its acceptance. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service clears all wildlife shipments, and requires declaration from importers for all shipments containing wildlife, including coral and coral reef species. CITES permits are required for CITES-listed species, and a database is maintained for all of these imports. The U.S. reports these data annually to the CITES Secretariat, as part of its CITES obligations.
In addition, the treaty specifically authorizes CITES Parties to institute so-called stricter domestic measures, which may restrict otherwise permitted trade. These can include establishment of measures by importing countries to ensure that their imports from range countries are sustainable. For example, the European Union temporarily banned the import of six genera of stony corals from Indonesia after examining the high export quotas established by the Indonesian government. Indeed, the European Union has far-reaching legislation that requires import permits for all imports of CITES-listed species, and they can restrict imports by species or country, if they have information that CITES is not being effectively complied with by the exporting country. In particular, their scientific experts meet regularly to evaluate whether or not the Article IV sustainable use/ non-detriment findings are being effectively made, and if not they can (and often do) stop imports of species from specified countries.
Such activity shows the impact of an Appendix II listing, and the powerful framework provided by CITES for monitoring and controlling international trade in coral reef species. The U.S. also has several stricter domestic measures that restrict imports of certain species based on conservation factors, including several CITES-listed species; these include the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Wild Bird Conservation Act. However, current U.S. law does not allow it to restrict imports of CITES Appendix II coral shipments, even if there are good reasons to believe that trade levels and practices are indeed in contravention of CITES' requirements, and are harmful to the species and its reef ecosystem. We will return to this concern in more detail later.
It is important to note that while the U.S. is the major importer of stony corals, commercial harvest of these species is banned or severely restricted in all U.S. range states and territories (Anonymous, 2000). This prohibition undoubtedly has many rationales, but U.S. policy makers often cite reef vulnerability as a prime factor in their decision. For example, the Caribbean Fishery Management Council (which develops management plans for several coral reef species in U.S. federal waters) has stated:
The principal value of coral reefs (including live-rock) is considered to be non-consumptive and are viewed as essentially non-renewable resource[s]...The importance of corals and associated plants and invertebrates lies in their relationship to the marine ecosystem. (CFMC, 1999)
Given the dichotomy between U.S. imports and U.S. domestic policies regarding reef management and our own trade, it is imperative that the U.S. ensures that it is not contributing to coral reef destruction in other parts of the world. The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) accepted this challenge and requested that the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) lead an interagency team to investigate possible domestic measures (including trade restrictions) to address unsustainable U.S. imports of coral reef species (Anonymous, 2000). It is our personal view that it is important that our importation policies and practices are consistent with our domestic policies and management practices (regarding exports in particular). A case in point is the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992. When Congress was considering whether or not to restrict imports of CITES-listed wild birds, primary consideration was given to the fact that all commercial exports of native wild birds are prohibited under U.S. law.
U.S. Industry Efforts
The U.S. marine ornamentals industry has recognized the need to promote a sustainable supply of organisms harvested in a non-destructive manner from source countries. Toward that end, the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) has been established as a non-governmental organization (NGO) to start dialog between collectors, wholesalers, retailers, and hobbyists on these subjects and to develop a means to certify environmentally sound products in the worldwide marketplace (Holthus, 1999). MAC intends to define, establish, and promote a certification scheme to be used throughout the chain of custody in the marine ornamentals trade, using best practice standards developed from multilateral consultations with industries, governments, and other NGO's (Holthus, 1999). The standards developed within MAC could help alleviate the poor shipment survival of many marine ornamentals, and may attract more consumers to "environmentally friendly" products. Obstacles to overcome in this process include market economics (uncertified, cheaply collected specimens will cost less than certified ones) and industry consensus. Obviously, as an industry organization MAC's interest is to avoid additional regulatory action or any legislative restrictions on U.S. imports. However, MAC has been actively involved in the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force discussions for many years, has been a positive partner, and has provided useful advice to U.S. agencies addressing these issues.
Domestic U.S. Measures
The USCRTF International Working Group appointed a small Trade Subgroup to examine the CEQ process and develop possible measures to channel U.S. demand toward sustainably harvested reef species. The subgroup recommended a variety of actions for the U.S. to consider, including:
All of these are important options to consider. Such efforts would be intended to channel the U.S. demand toward source countries with effective management plans and/or those species that are harvested sustainably.
The legislative option would create a legislative and regulatory situation comparable to the U.S. Wild Bird Conservation Act, which supports CITES by allowing importation into the U.S. of certain approved captive-bred species, but also allows for importation of wild-caught birds from approved science-based sustainable use management plans. It is a "reverse list" approach. The WBCA, passed in 1992, was stimulated by unsustainable trade, and challenges to effective CITES implementation by range countries, similar to what we are seeing now with the trade in CITES Appendix II coral species. The WBCA also encouraged the rapid development of captive breeding and husbandry techniques analogous to those that are emerging in the marine ornamentals industry today. Such a legislative option for U.S. imports would certainly benefit from more discussion between Congress, the Administration, scientists, conservation organizations, industry, and others.
Options that relate to cooperative work with industry are already underway, working through MAC and others. Certainly best management and trade practices are vital to both ensuring sustainable trade, and to conservation of coral reef ecosystems. We personally believe that such "voluntary" efforts are often most successful when coupled with regulatory/legislative solutions and incentives, and as such further dialogue on these options would be very useful.
Finally, all of these options address U.S. import (and export) policy options, and options available to the export and import industry. We believe that it is vital to couple those strategies with increasing public awareness. We strongly urge efforts to create informed consumers, so that anyone purchasing coral jewelry, coral reef-based curios, coral for a home aquarium, or ornamental fish, should be able to be aware of the origin of the products they are purchasing. We are not recommending consumer boycotts of coral reef-based products. Rather, consumers should be educated to demand products that are produced in a biologically, culturally, and economically sustainable manner, and provide both economic benefits to local people, and incentives for coral reef ecosystem conservation. An informed consumer is powerful -- and can guide industry best management practices, government policies, and of course Congressional interest and action.
 At press time, the first phase of this effort has been implemented by participating industry members, with a certification system in place between exporting and importing countries.
Anonymous. 2000. International trade in coral and coral reef species: the role of the United States. Report of the Trade Subgroup of the International Working Group to the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. Washington, D.C.
Bryant, D., L. Burke, J. McManus, and M. Spalding. 1998. Reefs at risk: A map-based indicator of threats to the world's coral reefs. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
CFMC (Caribbean Fishery Management Council). 1999. Amendment Number 1 to the fishery management plan for corals and reef associated plants and invertebrates of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands for establishing a marine conservation district including regulatory impact review and initial regulatory flexibility analysis and a final supplemental environmental impact statement. CFMC, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Green, E., and F. Shirley. 1999. The global trade in coral. WCMC Biodiversity Series No. 9. World Conservation Monitoring Centre. World Conservation Press, Cambridge, U.K.
Hodgson, G. 1999. A global assessment of human effects on coral reefs. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 38(5): 345-55.
Holthus, P. 1999. Conservation, culture and certification: the future of marine ornamentals. Abstract in Marine Ornamentals, the First International Conference on Marine Ornamentals. November 16-19, 1999. Kona, Hawaii.
Lau, P.P.F., and R. Parry-Jones. 1999. The Hong Kong trade in live reef fish for food. TRAFFIC East Asia and World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
|AAAS > AAAS International > AAAS Africa Program|