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Marine Science


The future of precious red coral in the Mediterranean

The future of precious red coral in the Mediterranean

Protecting vulnerable marine species is critical for fishers and artisans

Doriano Belloni began exploring the turquoise waters off the Italian island of Sardinia when he was a child.

Searching for coral soon became his passion – and his livelihood.

Now 70 years old, he still dives every summer in search of one of the Mediterranean’s gems, the spectacular red coral which is sought by buyers in Italy and abroad.

He is the first to admit the need to protect red coral for the future.

“With this job, we have to live; we have to support our families,” Doriano says. “It is in our interest to ensure the resources continue to exist. So we don’t destroy the coral.”

Red coral has been a precious commodity since prehistoric times. Traces of this colorful organism have been found at archaeological sites across Europe, and it has adorned religious art, sculptures, ornaments and jewellery for centuries. It can be found in shades ranging from pale pink to deep red and top quality coral sells for up to USD 6 000 (EUR 5 000) per kilogramme.

Some precious coral species, including red coral, are now recognised as vulnerable because of a range of pressures, including rising sea temperatures, water pollution as well as uncontrolled harvest. Together with a changing climate, these issues threaten the long-term survival of red coral and many other aquatic species in our increasingly vulnerable seas and ocean.

Covering over 70 percent of the planet, our ocean supports humanity and all organisms on earth. It produces at least 50 percent of the planet’s oxygen and is home to most of earth’s biodiversity. Not to mention, that 1 in 10 people in the world depends on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods.

Through the regional General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), FAO is working with Italy and other countries to improve control and surveillance of fishing while seeking to keep red coral harvesting at sustainable levels. The management measures adopted by the GFCM are designed to ensure the sustainability of red coral fishing, the job viability of the fishers, artisans and others in the industry who depend on it.

“This is not just about the communities who fish for coral; there are generations of people connected to the fishing, processing and trading of corals. We have to support these communities so this is sustainable long into the future,” says Kim Friedman, Senior Fishery Resources Officer at FAO.

While assisting all Mediterranean and Black Sea countries with improving their fisheries management capacity and making decisions favoring sustainability, the GFCM is  launching a series of research programmes, including one on red coral, as a means of gathering information on priority species and providing managers with advice.

As a result, since 2020, research institutes, universities and ministries from Algeria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Tunisia, are working together to increase scientific research and data collection on red coral in the Mediterranean Sea.

“The core principle behind this research program is to take full advantage of ongoing research at the country level by providing a platform for coordination and filling the gaps with new activities and capacity-building support” explains Miguel Bernal, GFCM senior fishery officer.

The results of this research program that will finalize next year will provide the scientific basis for the determination of the most appropriate management measures to preserve the precious red coral in the Mediterranean.