A few days after reopening my
Coral Forum, I was greeted by an email from a member who
rightly pointed out to me that while he enjoyed my book
Aquarium Corals, several corals that had become
popular since its publication were not well-covered. He
specifically mentioned Acanthastrea. I cringed
a bit, but admitted he was right and promised an article
on this genus of coral in the near future. In fact, mere
days later I was visiting a local pet store in Houston
where a six to eight inch colony of a rather ugly brownish-gray
color had a $1000.00 price tag on it, and was labeled
as Acanthastrea. Other smaller colonies were present,
from a few polyps to small colonies that ranged from eighty
to several hundred dollars in price. A quick perusal of
live corals being sold on eBay (e.g., see here
and at mail-order vendors confirmed that many hundreds
of dollars are being paid for specimens of these corals.
I was and remain aghast! In this article, I discuss the
biology and husbandry of Acanthastrea, in addition
to providing some general ecological and trade-related
commentary. Anthony, in turn, will focus more on the handling
that occurs in the trade in this genus, including propagation
and potentially illegal activities in the name of profit.
At the IMAC 2005 conference, I
learned that Eric was writing an article about Acanthastrea.
Through that weekend's activities, we somehow struck upon
the notion to co-author the piece. I hope my contribution
will provide some information about how the aquarium industry
handles the mussids we know and love as "Acans."
I will discuss the farming and propagation of this coral,
as well as a bit of a reality check on the actual handling
of specimens from the exporting countries in an effort
to add a perspective of true value to keeping these aquarium-suitable,
sustainable and sometimes beautiful corals.
The appeal of colored Acanthastrea, like
many other mussids and numerous faviids, is quite
understable with specimens like this. Photo courtesy
of Amy Larsan (TippyToex).
Eric's Version of the Acanthastrea
In a way I feel perhaps responsible
for this recent fascination and concomitant exorbitant
price of Acanthastrea in comparison with other
corals. In this
thread, I mentioned it was one of my favorite corals.
In fact, if you search my forum, you will find that up
until midway through last year, most people were asking
for identifications of various mussids, some of which
were Acanthastrea, and some which I could not identify.
For an example, see this
thread. These corals have historically been misidentified
by hobbyists and merchants alike. They have been available
for decades, often being sold as unobtrusive "meat
corals" or "closed brain corals." Most
sat for weeks or months in dealer tanks as another of
the rather bland, massive corals that looked like all
the other brain corals. No one really wanted them, and
they sold for around $20-$30 at most stores, completely
misidentified. They were as commonly available as many
other genera of "closed brain" type corals;
more so, in fact, than Platygyra, for example.
Yet in merely a year, the hobby has suddenly bred a whole
population of people who have become taxonomists of the
genus, and who can look at these fleshy corals and affix
a species name to them, much the same as they do with
the genera Acropora and Montipora. It's
no coincidence that such armchair taxonomists also are
usually active traders or sellers: buyers beware.
See my articles on coral identification here
for such warnings. Ironically, consumers shelling out
hundreds or thousands of dollars for these corals at pet
stores don't even bother to bring a fifty-cent plastic
ruler with them to measure a corallite to see if the identification
Previous conferences have showcased brilliant displays
of Montipora or Acropora. At this year's
IMAC, there were displays proudly showcasing Acanthastrea.
I asked one vendor if he wanted me to use it in a fragmentation
demonstration, and the look I got in return was one that
seemed to say it would be like cutting the Hope diamond
into stones for a simple eternity band.
This is not the first time such trends have occurred.
Early in the reef hobby days, Xenia species were
the corals of lore. To obtain or grow a specimen in this
genus was akin to finding the Holy Grail. But unlike Acanthastrea,
at least Xenia were legitimately uncommon ("rare"
in the hobby) because of their dismal shipping realities
from exporting countries. Now, they are considered a weedy
species, and handfuls of them are given away at aquarium
club meetings, and sometimes so many are produced they
are simply thrown in the trash. Then came Acropora.
Those who could obtain and grow Acropora were almost
worshipped, and to some degree this reverence for the
genus remains. Five-year waiting lists exist for tiny
fragments of corals that are positively bland or for those
that are among the most common species and color variants
on reefs. Yet, like Xenia, Acropora are
now considered a weedy, though still desirable, group.
As an example of this phenomenon, about a year ago, I
was honored to speak to the Los Angeles aquarium society,
and was shown a member's tank. As I stared at the tank,
the owner asked if I "saw anything special."
I scrutinized the tank, feeling as though I were missing
something. I looked left, and I looked right, and I looked
in every nook and cranny in an instant, feeling like I
was obviously obtuse in my observations of this tank.
I was finally pointed toward a small fragment of an Acropora
that was then explained to be one of the original and
few remaining fragments of the famous "Steve Tyree
Purple Monster." Without meaning offense, I must
admit it wasn't terribly purple. In fact, I have some
corals stuck in the back of my tank or lying on the sand
with more color than this infamous specimen. I see corals
with more color in most fish stores on a regular basis,
yet this coral apparently commands a price of several
hundred dollars for a centimeter or less. My impression
is that a lot of people in this hobby have simply lost
Other similar stories of "fad animals" abound:
zoanthids, Ricordea, the Bangaii cardinalfish.
All have at various times been the newest trend for one
reason or another, the corals suddenly commanding outrageous
prices for a few polyps. In some cases, the truly rarest
corals are unrecognized in stores, or command prices so
low as to almost be given away. In other cases, the most
common species and color morphs are treated as gold. The
tragedy is that hobbyists fall into such traps and that
many people make small fortunes from deception and trendiness.
To elaborate on my comment about Acanthastrea being
one of my favorite coral genera; it is one of my favorites
because of the odd appearance many of its specimens have
on reefs. These specimens are often surrounded by sediments
and look like some random pieces of coral skin growing
on the reef. It is not the rarity or color of specimens,
but rather their oddity in nature where I have seen them,
that is among the reasons that this genus is one of my
favorites. I have lots of favorite corals, many of which
would be passed by in most stores. I love Anacropora
for its habitat and its delicate growth, yet some coral
farmers actually give this coral away free with orders
because it is just a rather boring brown shade. I also
have what I believe to be one of the rarest corals in
the trade; a species first described in only 1983, and
virtually unknown until the publication of Soft Corals
and Sea Fans (Fabricius and Alderslade 2001). It is
a warty and rather ugly brown soft coral of the genus
Dampia. Perhaps I could get a few hundred dollars
for a cutting of this coral? Maybe I'll try eBay!
To restate text I made for a ReefSlides
in Reefkeeping Magazine, Acanthastrea is
a relatively large genus in the family Mussidae, and contains
12-15 species. With the exception of A. maxima,
all of them may be found in the areas where coral collection
for the aquarium trade occurs. Acanthastrea species
are not easy to distinguish from species in several other
genera, and even families, of corals. They resemble other
mussid corals, specifically Micromussa, Mussismilia,
Symphyllia and Lobophyllia. They also resemble
some of the many species in the family Faviidae that may
be very difficult to tell apart. Recently, I also have
seen Blastomussa wellsi being sold as Acanthastrea,
and even Blastomussa have risen in price dramatically
in recent months, perhaps because of their resemblance
to Acanthastrea. Perhaps, and more hopefully, it
is because Blastomussa are collected at levels
that are questionably sustainable (Bruckner and Borneman,
In general, the mussids are corals characterized by large
corallites with large teeth or lobes on their septa. The
corallites generally have well developed columellae. In
terms of knowing if a living specimen is a mussid, it
is possible to see or gently feel the septa for the presence
of these large and often serrated-looking teeth. If they
are not present, it is quite possible that it is a faviid
and not a mussid. But, actual identification requires
examination of a skeleton devoid of tissue, and most mussids
and faviids are covered with heavy tissue that nearly
completely obscures their skeletons' diagnostic features.
If the coral is determined to be a mussid, species identification
requires measuring its corallites across their diameter
from wall to wall. Micromussa, which looks very
much like some species of Acanthastrea, has corallites
8mm or less in diameter. Acanthastrea generally
has corallites smaller than Lobophyllia, and most
have corallites between 8-15mm in diameter. Several species,
though, may have larger corallites and these are the ones
most difficult to distinguish from Lobophyllia
With beautiful colors that positively overcome the
often bland colors of Acanthastrea, other
commmon mussids such as Symphyllia and Lobophyllia
are seen here in a Palauan lagoon. In the middle
photo, there is an Acanthastrea visible.
Can you find it? If not, how can you be sure that
the photos on websites or the coral in the store
is an Acanthastea, either? Photo by Eric
There is a reason for the above taxonomic distinctions.
Many aquarists mistakenly assume they have Acanthastrea
in their tanks. In fact, several of the photos in the
ReefSlides presentation are questionable, and may be other
species of other genera, including the faviid Caulastrea.
The same is true of corals on the Internet and in stores
being sold as Acanthastrea. Because these corals
have very fleshy polyps, identification even to genus
is difficult to impossible, as the characters that would
confirm a positive identification are hidden. Even if
Acanthastrea is the correct genus, assigning species
to these living corals is very, very difficult, even with
a bare skeleton. It should be assumed that any vendor
selling an Acanthastrea with a species name attached
to it probably hasn't the faintest idea if it is that
species or not.
typical small colony of what I believe is Acanthastrea,
photographed in Palau. Because I cannot see the skeleton,
I am not absolutely sure this is Acanthastrea.
Photos by Eric Borneman.
With some exceptions, Acanthastrea are found in
many locations on the reef, and although some species
may be found much deeper, most are collected from shallow
water to about 20m in depth. They are frequently found
in somewhat protected locations or lagoons and may form
colonies that are anywhere from a few polyps to large
hemispheres to encrusting colonies several meters across,
although not all species are likely to form such large
colonies. Relative to other corals, they are similar in
shape, color and habitat distribution to most of the mussids
available in the trade, like the often staggeringly beautiful
Lobophyllia hemprichii, a coral that commands a
low price these days. Perhaps next year these will be
worth thousands of dollars? In Corals of the World,
Veron (2000) describes most species of Acanthastrea
as relatively uncommon, though I would not characterize
them as particularly uncommon in many of the coral collecting
regions of Indonesia. Such a designation is also given
to many species of Euphyllia, and while this may
be true across their range, they are quite common in coral
collecting areas (Bruckner and Borneman 2005). Ironically,
Acanthastrea lordhowensis, termed in the hobby
vernacular as "The Lord," is probably among
the most common of the species. It is almost funny to
see them described as "rare" by so many vendors
- an obvious deception of the public to market the species
at ridiculously inflated values.
Skeletal features of Acanthastrea must be
viewed to determine species. In this case, my Acanthastrea
skeleton sat in my sump for a long time before I
fished it out to add to my collection, and has been
covered with coralline algae making identification
difficult. I do not know what species it is, despite
being able to see many of the skeletal features.
Photos by Eric Borneman.
In the aquarium, as is typical for most Mussidae, they
are tolerant of diverse conditions and can thrive in strong
or subdued lighting and water flow regimes. They are voracious
predators with strong nocturnal feeding responses. Additionally,
they appear very competitive in their ability to extrude
mesenterial filaments in a coordinated manner, similar
to Hydnophora (as is seen in the last
photo of the ReefSlides slideshow). An aquarist on
Reef Central has provided photos
of this behavior in The Coral Forum that make her
colony appear related to SpiderMan. Therefore, care should
be exercised when placing these corals near other sessile
organisms that are desired to remain undigested by aggressive
I am pleased to see that aquarists are taking interest
in species that were once considered uninteresting. However,
the hyper-overinflated values of these corals are a travesty.
For the price that a few colonies of Acanthastrea
and "purple monster" nubbins are being sold
at today, I could fly across the world on a long vacation
to Sulawesi, dive the glorious reefs that I love so much
in Indonesia, and with a little effort bring back Acanthastrea
I collected using existing exporters. The only thing is,
I probably wouldn't collect Acanthastrea. I usually
just swim right by them.
Let's play a game! Find the Acanthastrea
in this photo.
Photo by Eric Borneman.
Anthony's Comments on Acanthastrea:
Regarding the issue of industry
practices as it relates to the sale of "Acans,"
let me first address the response by a select few individuals
to my "Reef Trendy" article.
I was initially surprised to see a tiny outspoken and
angry minority of aquarists yelping in dissent, yet it
soon became very clear why the emotions flowed. We (hobbyists)
will kill our cash cow if we wake up and collectively
realize what's going on. The complaints were from a small
group of active "collectors" who buy, trade
and sell "Acans." These individuals are largely
working in collusion with each other literally to the
extent of price fixing, if you can believe the number
of aquarists we have heard from who discovered or keenly
suspected such activity and made it known to others in
the industry and law enforcement. The matter has been
exacerbated by some poached (pers. comm. US Fish and Wildlife)
corals making their way into the US trade. Price fixing
is when several competitive businesses conspire to reach
a secret agreement to set prices for their products in
order to prevent real competition and restrain the public
from benefiting from price competition. Price fixing is
a criminal violation of federal antitrust statutes and
also includes secretly setting favorable prices among
suppliers and manufacturers or distributors to beat the
So why did the "Acan" traders bark at my article
and other hobbyists' similar posts? The Ricordea
collectors did not peep, nor did the Acropora or
Montipora enthusiasts. The irony was that my article
barely mentioned "Acans"
more than the other corals listed, or the top-shelf skimmers
in the same discussion. I think it has mostly to do with
the profit-driven and dubious marketing tactics, which
may include acts of collusion or secretly shilling each
other's sale/trade posts.
Which leads us to the crux of my concern that some readers
have failed to understand in my opinions on the "responsible"
trade in corals. Let me first state that I have paid hundreds
of dollars for individual corals and fishes through the
years, and if I could afford it - I might buy specimens
that cost thousands of dollars. Secondly, I have no problem
with buyers setting a market price (any price) based on
honest information and offerings! Indeed, hand-made Italian
sports cars command a higher price for two very good reasons:
value and limited production. And in turn, makers of mass
produced family sedans also earn their profits for the
very same reason: value. Based on the facts and merits
of a good or service, we each can fairly and individually
(often over a very wide range!) determine what we consider
"valuable" to us. But that is not what we have
here in some of the trendy coral frenzies. Instead, nefarious
merchants are calling corals rare that are not rare (more
about this below), or offering poached specimens. It's
not honest. It's not responsible. And it's not legal.
So is it really as simple as, "if you don't buy
they won't sell it?" Yes, but again this
is not an issue about forcing a drop in the price of beautiful
and expensive corals by consumer holdouts just because
we want to possess them. Indeed, we cannot all collectively
lower the price of those Italian sports cars simply by
not buying them and waiting for the price to fall. And
we cannot do the same for truly supply-limited corals
either. I am simply concerned about fraudulent sales at
any price, however harmless the misinformation may seem,
as with ignorant merchants that have never worked as an
importer or even been on a reef who are suddenly qualified
to call something "rare" in the hobby or
by Greg Rothschild.
Consider, for example, the sales of "Acans"
online by silent/secret auction? The act is not suspicious
in and of itself, but the skewed ratio of "Acan"
sales done this way overall versus other species of corals
sold without any secrecy is curious, if not concerning.
Furthermore, in some of those same listings, you can/could
find "Acans" listed as "not Indo."
that's odd. What does "not Indo"
really mean? It begs the questions of where they came
from, and why not tell us? If it was simply some other
legal exporting country, then why not say so? Or is there
some not-so-coincidental correlation to the formerly touted
Japanese Acanthastrea that "disappeared"
when the rumor got around that law enforcement was looking
for poachers? Apparently, a number of corals were illegally
exported from Japan under other names (Favites chinensis
and Goniatsrea pectinata) that were indeed Acanthastrea.
Because of the huge sums of money involved in this confiscated
collection and continued plans to continue the illegal
profit-making venture, investigations are currently underway
(Borneman pers. comms). It seems the conspiracy now extends
back to the countries of origin where some traders are
getting quite rich while collectors still get a few pennies
for collecting the same "closed brain corals"
they always have been collecting. Not surprisingly, poachers
have continued to bring in shipments of illegally obtained
specimens under such guises as Blastomussa. The
smuggled corals are so profitable that it is worth using
couriers to carry small quantities from Japan among personal
belongings! So the marketing game has now changed, and
some of those "Acans" labeled as "not-Indo"
do look remarkably similar to those Japanese "Acans"
offered previously. Again, it does beg the question.
By looking at the range of many Acanthastrea species
and the countries with coral exporting permits, we can
see that the range is predominantly Indonesia. These species
can and do exist in other areas, but we must ask ourselves,
"Is coral collection and trade allowed from those
countries?" If not, then the only Acanthastrea
that should be sold are legal ("Indo") Acanthastrea."
Looking at the CITES regulations, the legal range of collection
is clear. And when the office for the Ministry of Trade
in Japan says that Japanese coral exports for ornamental
sale are illegal (Calfo pers.comms), then that's also
good enough for me.
To conscientious aquarists, I ask if it is really worth
it? Why break the law that is designed to protect the
species and reefs that we admire which are under pressure?
What we are hoping, of course, is that informed, conscientious
aquarists will not support poachers, scammers or price
gouging. And surely the most tempted individuals can easily
console themselves with the fact that so many other, legal,
aquarium suitable species are available to more than satisfy
their desire to keep and observe beautiful reef corals.
Yet, still I lament the creation of (unworthy) hype for
so-called rare corals. It is much like the multi-year
waiting lists for species from some merchants, as Eric
mentioned above. Such lists are laughable to the point
of incontinence. They illustrate, at best, the grower's
ignorance of true coral farming harvest cycles, as well
as best-case production possibilities. At worst, such
lists betray some sellers' more nefarious side. Do consider,
however, that as a grower of "rare" corals,
if your goal is either to make the most money possible,
or to give away the most frags possible, doesn't it make
more sense to delay trades temporarily and build a bigger
fragment inventory from which to distribute them? Why
wouldn't a grower want to turn one frag into two, two
into four, four into eight and so on until the fragmented
colony reaches many hundreds or even thousands of clones
in a year or so (see my comments on the ease of fragmenting
"Acans" and their speed of growth)? What is
the logic behind merely scavenging two of four brood stock
pieces each month? This cannot even compare to the mass
production of a brood colony of even just 500 fragments
that affords the harvest of 50 pieces monthly, or more.
It should be apparent that a hearty production and productivity
at harvest would kill the long-term waiting lists in the
most delightful way for everyone involved.
Now, I can understand the desire of some folks with disposable
income to want bragging rights for not only the form (color,
species or whatever) but also the price paid for an animal:
a bit of elitism or luxury. We all have our vices - I
can appreciate that. But designer sunglasses, for example,
are "valuable" in large part because they are
limited in production. If you have any doubts, let me
invite you to entertain the notion of what would happen
if the $400 sunglass makers mass-produced their products
for cheaper cost and simultaneously stocked them in both
Wal-Mart stores and the finest boutiques on Rodeo Drive?
I can promise you that sales of designer sunglasses
at Rodeo drive stores would fall, like dropped jaws in
a church with a flatulent choir. The corollary to "Acans"
here is that unlike designer sunglasses, "Acans"
are not rare or limited. Really! Don't just
take my word for it
go to CITES.org (here
and see the export quotas for yourself. Review Indonesia,
for example, and look over this year and back at the last
several years reported. You will be dumbstruck to see
how many Acanthastrea were sent out relative to
many other (correctly perceived as) common corals! And
you will also notice the absence of quotas for stony corals
from Australia, Japan, USA and other such countries that
ban or restrict the collection of their stony corals for
export. If you also read the details of the quotas, you
will see that for many entries listed, there are actually
more than a few different species of the same genus that
can be lawfully exported under that given type species.
This is a practical and appropriate accommodation for
collectors and wildlife agents who largely, like ourselves,
cannot readily distinguish species between various Acanthastrea
species, for example, based on living examples of
stressed and retracted corals in shipment containers.
And so, this is why some import lists only have "Acanthastrea
echinata" listed, but other species are still
exported legally under the same name. This is also one
of the tricks that bogus sellers use to drive up their
prices. Ignorant customers see only "A. echinata"
available online, wholesale, or from their local retailer's
lists, but the "savvy" seller is promoting his
possession of a "rare" species.
Consequently, when we tell you that the genus is not
that uncommon in supply from legal exporting countries,
we really aren't kidding! And it has always been that
way. For example, I just got back from a trip to the South
Pacific to consult on a coral farm startup. Visiting with
the divers on the very first day, it was not surprising
or impressive to see them collect boxes upon boxes of
beautiful Acanthastrea. Not surprising, in part,
because they also brought up similar numbers of Faviids,
Euphylliids, Pocilloporids, etc. And because of the common
abundance and availability of these popular corals, it
should not surprise you that they all were priced the
same upon export! Yes, the gorgeous "Acans"
sold to L.A. importers for exactly the same price as brown
Favia brain corals, pink Stylophora, common
Fungia discs and everything else in the lot.
New coupons and digital deals from
have been released.
This is very much how the early supply side of the chain works:
reliable, consistent, high volume and relatively low profit
commodities. This happens week after week from the exporting
countries and has been going on for decades.
The typical appearance of Acanthastrea on
reefs in collection areas of Indonesia. Small isolated
colonies of a few polyps, unobtrusively forming
a skin-like covering over the substrate. One can
imagine the amount of hammer-and-chiseling of the
reef it takes to obtain such specimens. Photos by
Just a month ago I was in Singapore, and the story was
the same. I spent many hours and days visiting local fish
stores, coral farms and wholesalers. Acanthastrea
were equally as common and plentiful as elsewhere. I saw
hundreds upon hundreds of specimens, and all for the average
price of any other coral, just like it used to be here
in the USA not too long ago.
The topic of trendy corals is not my principal or even
significant interest in the aquarium hobby. Far from it,
although straight talking is. But the issue really has
reached a crescendo beyond anything I can fathom. I just
checked the big online auction site, eBay, for a random
search of "Acanthastrea" and the first
item that came up (bidding to end July 30, 2005) happened
to be a 600+ polyp colony of 20+ pieces of these beloved
Mussids; the seller values his collection at over $75,000
and has offered it for "only" $17,500. For such
corals that enter the US for less than $10 each, I have
to ask at what point in the jump between $200 and $17,500
is it considered lunacy?
Propagation of Acanthastrea
A discussion of the fragmentation
of this mussid may seem
well, anticlimactic! But
at last, in this article, I am granted relief from a fetal
position where I've been laying for hours and chanting
"find a happy place, find a happy place!" A
safe, fun topic without controversy!
Acanthastrea is categorically one of the hardiest,
most tolerant and fastest growing stony corals I have
ever worked with. And mind you, I have worked with hundreds
of coral species, and handled many, many thousands of
specimens through the years. For anyone interested in
keeping and/or propagating Acanthastrea, you have
my strong assurance that it is a delightfully forgiving
and aquarium-suitable genus to work with.
The attributes that make Acanthastrea such a good
candidate for propagation are as follows:
· Large polyps
that feed heartily and can be target fed organismally
(use minced meats of marine origin: zooplankton substitutes).
Note: frequent feeding accelerates growth, recovery
and the harvest cycle.
· Distinct and conspicuous corallites that are
easily separable with minimal collateral damage to the
rest of the colony.
· Adaptability over a wide range of lighting
conditions, but especially tolerant of the heavy blue/cool
temperature spectrums that aquarists commonly favor
· Fast growth and popularity among aquarists
translates to good profits and appeal to commercial
Starting with judiciously cautious fragging techniques
of this coral, I have since learned an appreciation through
the years of how very tolerant this genus is to handling.
Presuming a propagation candidate is ideally well-established
(six months or more in the latest place of residence)
and well-conditioned (regular feedings, stable mineral
composition and quality of the water), success is almost
assured in your endeavors to propagate it! Without imposing
any significant change in lighting or water flow "post-operation,"
the fragmented donor and taken divisions will heal remarkably
fast. I have watched mine and others' heal in days and
grow out to be fully formed polyps ready for bilateral
division again in as little as two to three weeks. A one-month
cycle of harvest is, in fact, conservative when you start
with well-established specimens.
My preference is to separate individual polyps for faster
grow-out of the total colony's mass. Once divisions have
reached a sufficient size or polyp count for trade, they
may simply be glued or secured by traditional means (typically
natural settlement or superglue). I take polyps from wild
colonies by using bone-cutters or poultry shears. When
I'm feeling especially patient, I use a Dremmel or wire
saw (a diamond-coated "wire" blade used for
cutting curved shapes in stained glass or ceramic tile).
But if an individual polyp splinters or breaks with any
applied fragmentation technique
do not fear! Acanthastrea
is remarkably resilient.
**Click the picture
for a larger image and caption.**
As you can see in the images, I now resort to brutally
chopping individual polyps in half with a razor blade
or scissors. Polyps of this fabulous coral heal and grow
out in less than one month. Strong water flow and frequent
feedings are crucial for a fast harvest cycle, though.
Polyps can even be kept on the sand bottom as free-living
specimens. After a few "generations" of fragging
divisions, there is less/little carbonate mass underneath
each polyp; they are simply fast and loose on the "seafloor"
or your propagation tank. It is indeed remarkable to see
and feel the crushing of septa as a blade passes through
a polyp. Cuts can safely be made anywhere through the
colony and between the polyps. And please be reminded
that the successful propagation of each/any such corals
is a result of the demand for similar reproduction from
the wild. Acanthastrea is indeed a very hardy and
useful aquarium coral, even if/when its color is unremarkable.
Just remember to use these, and all, corals responsibly.
Concluding Remarks from Eric and Anthony
It would be nice if the profits
being reaped from the recent sales of Acanthastrea
stayed in the hands of the resource countries, and not
in those currently engaged in their trade at tremendously
inflated values. The hype could encourage smuggling and
other black market trades solely for the expectation of
great profits. For example, countries without permits
for the export of corals may begin to exploit their protected
resources, which otherwise may have been left undisturbed,
for the lure of the thousand dollar corals off their shores.
We have indeed heard of collectors in non-CITES countries
scheming to send their corals to CITES island nations
for rerouting to America. There sadly can be no mistake
about the impetus and responsibility for such unlawful
responses. We drive many markets, and this is not something
to be proud of.
by Randy Olszewski.
Perhaps all corals collected from the wild, without real
evidence to ensure that they exist at sustainable levels
for continued collection, should command exorbitant prices.
As coral reefs continue to decline, there should be real
economic pressures on the sale of CITES-listed species,
but not like those described in this article. Perhaps
it's time for wild collected corals to be taxed so that
the tax levied goes into reef conservation efforts and
organizations. This type of action would encourage mariculture,
aquaculture and sustainable harvest practices. It would
also go a long way toward the long-established CITES provision
that trade in CITES species REQUIRES a non-detriment finding,
by a scientific authority, that trade in the species does
not occur to the detriment of the species' survival. In
the case of the coral trade, particularly those from the
major exporting nations, this is little more than an empty
statement since rigorous population studies have not been
conducted in most cases.
If vendors and buyers are interested in a coral because
it is rare, or the claim is made that it is rare, then
there should be a reduced demand by aquarists for
the species. The mission statements of all marine aquarium
societies I am aware of include language about stewardship,
conservation and sustainability. It is no longer considered
fashionable to have ashtrays made of gorilla hands or
umbrella stands made of elephant feet. The trade of ivory
is also banned in many nations. Why would vendors who
purchase booths and the aquarists who attend international
aquarium conferences, who themselves are almost invariably
conservationists, not be outraged at the sale of a "rare"
CITES-listed species, rather than desiring it or offering
it for sale? If indeed the species is truly not rare,
then such sales are based on lies, at best and fraud,
at worst. Price fixing of these (or any) desired coral
is also a crime.
Acanthastrea may be rare in some areas and more
common in others. Some species might be rare, in general.
There is little evidence, however, that they are any more
or less rare than the many thousands of other corals already
in the trade. It is always exciting when something happens
to create enthusiasm in the reefkeeping community; we
hope, however, that such excitement is based on new advances
and knowledge, not the over inflated and hyped demand
for this year's wild collected "coral du jour."