Three species of Euphyllia, plus two others from other genera, are currentlyunder the EU SRG spotlight and their import into Europe (including the UK,although it is no longer a member of the Union) could end up being restrictedor banned. PHOTO: JOHN DAWES

As if there weren’t enough problems facing the global coral sector followingthe ongoing crises regarding Fijian and Indonesian corals, the EU CITESScientific Review Group (SRG) has now turned its attention to Australiancorals.

It is considering if trade in several LPS (Large Polyp Species) is detrimentalto their continued survival in the wild. Currently, three species ofEuphyllia : E. glabrecens , E. ancora and E. paraancora , along withspecies from two other genera: Duncanopsammia ( D. axifuga ) andCatalaphyllia ( C. jardinei ) are under the microscope. If the EU SRGconcludes that trade in wild-harvested specimens of these species is notsustainable, it could either restrict their import into Europe, or even banit.

The decision regarding which way to go will rest with the individual MemberStates and, although the UK is no longer a member of the EU, it will followany European decision taken. The final outcome, though, will probably not beknown until the next CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) – date to beconfirmed. As I write, discussions are under way, with the SRG decisionprobably being announced this month (March) – but see below.

In the meantime, the SRG has requested the Australian authorities to submitdata showing that collection of the species in question is not detrimental totheir ongoing survival in the wild. Should the Group conclude that the datasubmitted indicate that collection is not sustainable and decide to restrictor close down harvesting and export, this would, obviously, have disastrousconsequences for the Australian coral export trade, as well as for all thoseEU importers for whom Australian corals form an important part of theirbusiness. It would also deprive hobbyists around the world from being able toobtain specimens of these popular and striking species for their aquaria.

If we were talking of SPS (Small Polyp Species) corals, like the manyAcropora species that adorn our aquaria, the situation would be quitedifferent, since SPS corals can be easily propagated by micro or macrofragmentation. Therefore, producing significant quantities of mari-culturedSPS corals is not a problem. Indeed, many of today’s aquarium SPS corals arecultured, rather than harvested from the wild.

The situation with LPS corals is quite different, though. These large-polypspecies are difficult to fragment, as a result of which, their mari-culture ismuch more challenging, so much so, that some form of mechanism consisting oftrained personnel or officials would need to be set up within the EU toascertain whether LPS corals being imported are mari-cultured or collectedfrom the wild. Presumably, such personnel would be based at Border InspectionPosts (BIPs), but this point has not, as far as I can ascertain, beenconsidered yet. Nonetheless, it is believed that, should such a mechanism beestablished, any coral whose origin as a cultured specimen cannot be provenvia appropriate certification would be deemed to be wild-harvested and wouldthen be subjected to the restrictions or bans imposed by the EU Member Statethrough which the import is being made.

Quite naturally, Ornamental Fish International (OFI) is in consultation withthe CITES authorities in Australia, as well as with several Australianexporters regarding this vitally important matter. So far, I know little aboutthe outcome of these discussions, but can say that, as of today, no conclusivedecision has been taken and, thus, exports can continue as normal, pending,both the overall EU CITES decision, as well as that of the individual EUMember States with whom the final say regarding whether or not to issue importpermits rests (should findings lead the SRG to conclude that trade isunsustainable).

The UK’s Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) is also involved in theongoing discussions. The online reef website, reef builders(, quotes Dominic Whitmee, the organisation’s ChiefExecutive, thus: “Ornamental Fish International (OFI,) has been coordinatinginformation on this. OATA has offered assistance and is working with the EPO (European Pet Organisation – my italics ) to get a better understanding ofthe issues. At the moment we have insufficient information to make a judgmenton the status of these species. The UK’s Department for the Environment andRural Affairs (DEFRA) is no longer engaged with the EU decision-making processbut have stated they will follow SRG decisions, for the time being at least.”

Therefore, as things stand, we are in a bit of a limbo, awaiting submissionsand decisions from the various parties. Although – as mentioned above – it washoped that a decision would be arrived at by the SRG this month, my feeling isthat it will take considerably longer than this, not just for the informationrequested by the SRG to be submitted, but for it to be assessed and decidedupon.

John Dawes is a freelance writer and international ornamental aquaticindustry consultant. He is a long-time contributor to, and supporter of, PIN,has written over 4,000 articles and contributed to 50 books as author, editorand editorial consultant. In 2005 John (along with his wife and businesspartner, Vivian) received the OFI Award for their “valuable contribution tothe ornamental aquatic industry”. John is an Honours graduate in Biology andGeology, a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, a Fellow of the ZoologicalSociety of London, a Member of the Society of Biology and a CharteredBiologist.

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