While the aquarium trade in marine invertebrates is significant in some parts of the world, it appears to be a relatively minor activity in Australia and much of it is restricted to amateur activity.


The global trade in coral, which involves more than 2000 species, is monitored by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Analysis of trade in black corals and stony corals from the early-mid 1980s through to 1997 (Green and Shirley 1999) found that during this period, 70 nations imported a total of 19,262 tonnes from 120 exporting nations. Most imports originated from South East Asia (especially Indonesia), followed by the Pacific, Caribbean, and Indian Oceans; Australia is an insignificant source in global terms and was not mentioned. While dead coral (mainly branching forms) accounted for more than 90% of the trade up to the early 1990s, there has since been a large increase in the amount of coral shipped live for the aquarium trade, the quantity having increased tenfold since 1985 to make up half of the global trade in 1997 (i.e. 600-700 tonnes). The dimensions of coral pieces suggest the typical live coral in the aquarium trade is at least three years old. Green and Shirley (1999) argued that in comparison to other impacts (such as mining and dynamiting), the effects of collecting live coral for the aquarium trade are very small. For example, it has been argued that the loss of coral export potential as a result of the CITES ban has led to a loss of income to coastal communities in countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. The resultant lack of commodity value for coral may have encouraged the wide adoption of blast fishing throughout the Indo-west Pacific, a practice that has greater adverse non-target impacts.


Collection of coral for the tourist trade is illegal in Australia, but a small, highly controlled live coral trade industry occurs on the Great Barrier Reef, with permits issued by GBRMPA for selected reefs. Currently, about 40 operators are licensed to collect in a certain area and take about 50 tonnes of live coral (including living rock and soft corals, anemones and their associated fish) annually (GBRMPA 2000; S. Breen pers. comm.). Harriott (2000) concludes that the current live coral trade, which currently involves 50 small fixed leases, is sustainable and suggests that roving licenses should be investigated, to spread the collection effort over wider areas. However, the Authority is opposed to this because of difficulties in assessing compliance and in monitoring impacts. The industry currently has some latency and the Total Allowable catch (TAC) should be reduced to reflect more closely the current, much lower level, of catch within the fishery, thus removing this latency. Separate catch quotas should be set for the living rock/rubble and live coral component. Harriott stresses that the management of real or perceived conflicts with other reef users is a significant issue for the fishery. Designation of collection areas must minimise areas of conflict. Re-designation of most collection sites to deeper, turbid locations would benefit the fishing industry and reduce conflicts with the tourism activities. Finally, the farming of coral is probably not feasible within Australia but should be encouraged overseas.

Copyright © Environment Australia, 2002
Department of Environment and Heritage