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Jewel of the deep: are the modern incarnations of age-old traditions -coral diving and craftsmanship- selling Mediterranean red coral out?

AuthorsTsounis, Georgios
KeywordsCorallium rubrum
Red coral
Black coral
Historical ecology
Issue DateApr-2009
PublisherAmerican Museum of Natural History
CitationNatural History 118(3): 30-35 (2009)
AbstractMy colleagues and I spent 2002 and 2003 intensively counting, measuring, filming, and photographing C. rubrum all over the Costa Brava. We developed a nondestructive photographic sampling method to measure the size of 7,600 coral colonies. Our results showed that the seven-year-old, inch-tall sticks are average for the region. The oldest corals, like the ones we saw deep in the Medas reserve, were no bigger than our palms, probably about thirty years old. Where were the 100-year-old, foot-and-a-half-tall "bonsais," which local divers in the 1940s described as common?
The populations seemed to be unnaturally, perhaps unhealthily, youthful, and we wondered why. Red coral has no predators, but it does have a parasite: a sponge that perforates colony bases. Yet if either elevated parasitism or a disease were responsible for the skewed populations, dead corals would remain as evidence, and we'd seen few. We knew that Mediterranean red coral is generally thought to be overharvested; in fact, Catalonia's fisheries department had commissioned our project to help guide an update of its coral-fishing regulations. But just nine legal coral divers work along the Costa Brava; it seemed unlikely that so few fishermen could distort the populations, though we had yet to learn the extent of poaching
Description6 pages.-- Reprinted from Natural History (Apr 2008); copyright © Natural History Magazine, Inc., 2008-2009
Publisher version (URL)http://www.naturalhistorymag.com
Appears in Collections:(ICM) Artículos
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