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EU backs U.S. in seeking coral protection

20 november 2009

The European Union (EU) has agreed with a U.S. initiative to seek international trade protection for red and pink coral, which is used in fine jewelry as well as home decor and has been the subject of a campaign by conservation groups that believe over-harvesting has imperiled the slow-growing species, reports.

The European Commission indicated that EU member states - including Italy, a major producer of coral jewelry - were in favor of a request from the United States to co-sponsor a proposal to list red and pink coral under Appendix II at the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties, to be held March 13-25, 2010, in Qatar.

An Appendix II CITES listing for red and pink coral would not prohibit trade, but would ensure that international trade in coral is carefully monitored through a system of export permits, which would help to reduce trade in illegally fished coral. Countries wishing to export red and pink coral would be required to produce a scientific finding that proves trade is not detrimental to the survival of these species.

SeaWeb's Too Precious to Wear campaign, which is among the organizations that has been pressing for the protection of coral, hailed the announcement.

"This decision is a major step toward safeguarding the future of these species and the livelihoods that depend on them," SeaWeb President Dawn Martin said in a press release.

The United States and the EU have placed significant pressure on these animals, according to SeaWeb, which says the United States imported more than 26 million pieces of coral from 2001 to 2006. More than 2,000 species of coral are currently afforded CITES protection, including precious black coral, also used for jewelry. But while the global black-coral trade is estimated at five metric tons, the trade in pink and red coral is 30 to 50 metric tons annually.

The EU decision was issued after a workshop on red and pink coral was held in Naples, Italy, in September. Red and pink coral, also known as corallium, were considered for Appendix II protection in 2007. At the last CITES Conference of Parties, the proposal passed the initial committee vote but was overturned in the final plenary vote, due to implementation concerns, which were discussed again at the recent Naples workshop.

A two-thirds majority vote from CITES member countries is needed for red and pink coral to be successfully listed under Appendix II. SeaWeb said that even the CITES listing would not be a panacea.

"Strong local and regional management in the Mediterranean and the Pacific is needed to secure the future of these species and the rich traditions and livelihoods that depend on them," SeaWeb said in the release.

Some jewelry companies have already taken steps to help protect coral, including Tiffany and Co., which removed coral from its product lines more than six years ago due to sustainability concerns, as well as retailer Leber Jewelers in Chicago and designers Monique Pean and Melissa Joy Manning. In the home decor industry, Pottery Barn and Michael Aram have also refused to sell products that use real coral as have fashion designers Lilly Pulitzer, Lela Rose and Vena Cava.