Long-term Trends of Coral Imports into the United States Indicate Future Opportunities for Ecosystem and Societal Benefits

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Published in: Conservation Letters, Vol. 5, 2012


The international trade in corals used to be primarily a curio trade of dried skeletons, but now focuses on live corals for the marine reef aquarium trade. The trade is still rapidly evolving, creating challenges including the addition of new species that outpace effective management strategies. New species in the live coral trade initially command high prices, but as they become common the price radically decreases with feedback effects to the trade. To understand these trends, 21 years of live coral import data for the United States were assessed. Trade increased over 8% per year between 1990 until the mid-2000s, and has since decreased by 9% annually. The timing of the peak and decline varies among species, and is a result of the rising popularity of mini-reef ecosystem aquariums, the global financial crisis, and an increase in aquaculture production. The live coral trade offers opportunities for coral reef ecosystem conservation and sustainable economic benefits to coastal communities, but realization of these externalities will require effective data tracking.