I apologize for not immediately continuing
the series on coral nutrition, but Anthony Calfo's article
in this issue prompts me to write on another subject this
month. I'd like to thank Anthony for writing an informative
article on this most disturbing recent trend to artificially
dye corals. I feel it an important enough issue to warrant
a second commentary on the subject. It amazes me that anyone
would feel that the naturally glorious colors already present
in corals and coral reef organisms should need to be enhanced.
The majority of the dyed corals entering
the market began appearing more prolifically late in 2001
and originated in Indonesia. However, soon after the first
reports began trickling in of dyed Sinularia and Turbinaria,
in early 2002, I was unfortunate enough to have first hand
(and unintentional) experience with a dyed coral. This time,
its origin was Fiji, and many other reports of dyed Fijian
corals, including ones not commonly exported from Indonesia,
are now confirmed. Perhaps more disturbing is what I have
ascertained may be an ulterior motivation for using dye in
Fiji. The corals appear to be totally or partially bleached,
and would otherwise be unsellable.
Indonesian dyed corals seemed to be enhanced
to command either higher prices or to make them more desirable
or attractive. The Indonesians are, as a culture, fond of
bright colors, and it shows in their clothes and even their
food! Being surrounded by the bright colors of nature both
on land and sea, it is hardly surprising, and I rather suspect
that deception is not always the primary motivation for this
practice. It may very well be that those involved feel they
are doing a service in the practice.
the brightly colored natural fruits with the artificially
colored sweets on this Indonesian airline meal! It might
not be a coincidence that the pink layer of the agar
treat is almost the same shade as our pink corals!
In Fiji, however, I feel the practice
is clearly deceptive. Once again, Fiji has undergone significant
bleaching events and many corals being cultured and collected
have also bleached. This is truly an unfortunate predicament
for those involved in the trade. However, the introduction
of artificial colorants to mask a bleached coral and make
it marketable is a practice that must not continue.
I ordered an orange morph of a Lobophyllia
- an unusual, but by no means impossible, color morph. Lobophyllia
generally are very hardy and transport well. However, this
specimen arrived with tissue that appeared grossly swollen
and abnormal. I suspected significant damage that appeared
necrotic, and foresaw an impending jelly-type infection. I
opted to treat the coral, and placed it in a quarantine tank
with newly made seawater. Within an hour, the water had a
distinctive orange tint, and by 12 hours the tank appeared
as in the photo below.
I changed the water several times over
several days, and once the dye was eliminated from the tissues,
it was apparent that the coral was clearly severely bleached.
It is possible that the dye caused the bleaching prior to
obtaining the coral, but logic would dictate otherwise. The
coral is still alive, but its health has remained compromised
and has been very sensitive to even slight aquarium water
As to dyed corals, I personally collected
threads and documented cases of dyed corals being sold from
aquarists and stores across the country. I wrote a letter
to the US Coral Reef Task Force, AMDA, Marine Aquarium Council,
and seven separate persons in the Indonesian government and
the coral collecting group AKKII about this issue. I have
received responses from USFWS, NMFS, AKKII and other organizations
in response, all saying that they would take steps to correct
the problem. I have included some of the letters of response
at the end of this article.
In terms of buying livestock from any source,
certain corals are going to be wild collected. There are no
alternatives. Similarly, there is no one source of
dyed corals, and Indonesia recognizes that certain wholesalers,
though only a few, may be participating in this practice.
However, the operators of the facilities are apparently not
doing the dying, and may not be knowledgeable enough to even
know or recognize corals from collectors or middlemen that
are dyed. Thus, orders are placed and corals are sent. No
store ordering corals from Indonesia, and perhaps now even
Fiji, will necessarily be assured of not receiving dyed corals.
Unless a coral is aquacultured or collected from a known source,
every store that sells wild collected corals will potentially
be a source of dyed corals.
Given that the vast majority of corals
collected for the aquarium trade are from Fiji and Indonesia,
both now known to be sources of dyed corals, should these
countries be economically boycotted? I don't believe so, and
I am not sure that not supporting stores that may have dyed
corals is a proper response. However, it is unquestionably
the case that at least some suppliers, from exporter to retailer,
are knowingly and intentionally purchasing and supplying dyed
corals. For those cases, non-cooperative non-support may be
a good choice. For others, making sure to inform the facility
that the coral is dyed, and explaining the reasons why you
don't approve is a good way to voice concern and dissatisfaction.
Urging the facility to do the same to the supplier "upstream"
is also a good idea. Education is the key to eliminating this
practice, especially when coupled with ethical and economically
As to the survival and health
of dyed corals, I cannot say what the true effects the dyes
have on coral tissue. To be able to investigate their effect
on animal survival and health, it would be very helpful to
know what are the dyes being used. Some may be non-toxic,
at least some are clearly water soluble, and may be relatively
innocuous - just gaudy and annoying! However, there is also
a very real possibility that the dyes are directly toxic or
indirectly causing stress, distress, and compromising the
health of the treated corals. Calfo's thoughts and proposed
effects of dye are possible, if not likely, to be true.
It appears that some corals tolerate being
dyed better than others. For some, it appears that the dye
is actively removed from the tissues and transported out of
the coral through solenia or gastrovascular canals (Figure
3). For others, signs indicative of stress exist, including
tissue recession, poor feeding response, poor polyp expansion,
and increased secretion of mucus. In some cases, death appears
to occur as result of the dye. However, studies would need
to be done to be sure that mortality could indeed be attributed
to the dye, either directly or indirectly.
In conclusion, I urge anyone seeing such
corals to be pro-active and vocal in expressing their concern
and dissatisfaction with the practice. Obviously, no one should
intentionally purchase a dyed coral, as also mentioned and
supported by Calfo (this issue). I would also welcome all
reports and documentation of this practice wherever seen so
that I can perhaps continue to use channels of inquiry and
within trade groups and interested parties to help stop the
practice. If you are able to help in this regard, the following
information will be helpful, if not required, to be useful
in supportive evidence of the practice:
2. Coral type - genus level, species if possible
3. Color of dye
4. How many present
5. Name, address, phone number and contact at the
6. Photos, if possible
7. Supplier of facility
8. Country of origin for the specimen, if known
Furthermore, I would also request any reports
and documentation of dyed corals that have been unintentionally
purchased and are being cared for by an aquarist be sent to
me. Particularly useful, in addition to the information above,
1. Length of time since purchase
2. Length of time until dye is lost from the tissue
3. General tank information
4. Obvious changes in behavior, health, or survival
of the dyed coral or others in the tank
5. If the tissue is bleached or normally pigmented
once the dye is lost
6. If there are any measured, observed, or anecdotal
long-term consequences from the dye
7. Any other notable remarks, measurements, or photos
Below are some of the letters of response
I have received regarding my inquiries into the practice of
dyed corals in the aquarium trade. I have edited some of them
for relevant content and omitted personal issues.
Thank you for your e-mail to AKKII.
I really appreciate about your progress and your concern about
coral trade. As Association for Industry, we agree with your
response about artificial colors for coral. I'm very sure
that artificial color can be affected to health of coral.
I have been forward your e-mail to AKKII's member and remainder
to them about this practice. Do you know the name of company
which do this practice?. I just suggest that this matter can
be one of part from certification development by MAC to ensure
sustainable trade in the world.
Bye the way, when you will go to Indonesia
again, I hope we can continue our work in Spermonde with Andy
Regards, - name omitted -
Indonesian Coral Shell and Ornamental
Fish Association (AKKII)
Dear Mr Eric Borneman,
I am - name omitted - from - company
name omitted -, an Indonesian exporter that is also one of
AKKII members. I read your email to AKKII about the malpractice
(yellow and pink dyes) conducted by some Indonesian exporters,
which affect coral survivability and create customers distrust.
I am sorry to hear that.
When money is the basic reason of such
a practice, I do not know what to say. To tell the truth,
I do not know what companies involved, but not all of Indonesian
exporters are bad boys like that of course. I assure that
- company name omitted - never practice it. If you still remember
your coming to our farm, you will get in your mind about our
We have stated our commitment to MAC
to maintain sustainable based of coral trade to prove our
environmental concern. But the practice will absolutely give
Indonesian negative impression abroad, and it also affect
other Indonesian exporters. Indonesia has been badly recognized
for its cyanide - used fishing, something we try to rehabilitate.
It can be useless due to the practice. That is what they don't
think and care about
At this moment, Indonesia is developing
its management plan of coral and marine ornamental fishes
trade through Indonesian Coral Reef Working Group, involving
AKKII, MAC, WWF, Indonesian NGOs, governments, etc. It includes
monitoring systems. In order to minimize the practice, capable
monitoring system is required, and it is being developed.
I believe AKKII will take a good step to address this issue,
cause it is not easy to hold the Indonesian "bad boys".
This is my personal opinion, and it
is nice to be able to contact you
- name omitted -
I am AKKII representative for the USA,
my name is - name omitted -.
Thank you for informing us about dyed corals. I have forwarded
your letter to AKKII main office in Jakarta, Indonesia for
Personally, I know that this is the
work of only one or two irresponsible exporters from Jakarta.
If possible please provide us with the product list offerred
that include the dyed coral. So, AKKII may have proof to resolve
And also I was told that some operator
in LA actually dyeing a large number of these said corals
in order to cut mortality compare to if have to ship from
Jakarta. From what I have been told, the dye may bleach out
during the shipment effecting water quality inside the bag
and therefore may kill the animal being shipped.
Again we need further investigation
who actually doing this practice both in Jakarta and Los Angeles.
- name and company name omitted -
Photos of dyed corals from threads in
The Coral Forum and other forums on Reef Central. These photos,
like those used in Calfo's (this issue), are provided to help
aquarists recognize artificially colored corals.
1: Photo of dyed Heliofungia actiniformis
from Reef Central member djheywood.
of Brian Amoroso.
2: Photo of dyed Goniopora sp. by Reef Central
member kennerd. Photo courtesy of Ken O'Brien.
3: Photo of dyed Nephthea sp. by Reef Central
Photo courtesy of Mitchell
4: Photo of dyed Sinularia sp. by Reef Central
member Blithe. Photo courtesy of Blithe Hoffman.
5: Photo of dyed Sinularia sp. by Reef Central
Photo courtesy of Mitchell
6: Photo of dyed Sinularia sp. by Reef Central
member dc. Photo courtesy of Debi Coughlin.