1. Is it Illegal to Collect Coral?
The simple answer is yes. Worldwide, many types of coral are protected by The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES prohibits the removal of “precious coral” species commonly used to make valuable jewelry or souvenirs. Precious corals live extended periods and make up much of the reef habitat, however; they grow very slowly and can take decades to recover. Along with living corals, CITES also prohibits the removal of coral fragments or dead corals since dead corals play a significant role as substrate or habitat for other animals and can also break down to create beach sand. To protect the health of wild populations, CITES restricts harvesting or captive breeding of corals.
Many countries, states, and municipalities also have their own laws regulating the removal of marine life. For questions about a particular region or species, contact your local natural resources management office.
2. How does coral grow?
Corals can reproduce sexually or asexually, meaning they do not always need a partner to produce offspring. Through asexual reproduction, one coral polyp can split into two, allowing for a fast and easy population increase. Corals may also release sperm and egg cells, which combine in the water to produce genetically unique offspring. After fertilization, coral larvae float around as plankton until finding a suitable spot for attachment and growth.
As new individuals form, either through sexual or asexual reproduction, they remove calcium and carbonate from the surrounding seawater. This compound is slowly secreted from the coral’s tissues to build their protective rigid skeletons. Over thousands of years, colonies grow to produce the massive reef systems we are familiar with today.
3. How long does it take for corals to grow?
Different species grow at different rates, but on average, reef-building corals grow about 1 centimeter a year or the speed at which your fingernails grow. For stony corals, the growth rate can range from 0.3 cm to 10 cm per year. Corals grow very slowly compared to other organisms and large reefs like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) or the Florida Reef Tract can take millions of years to grow. It is coral’s slow growth that makes conservation and restoration such a monumental challenge.
4. What is coral farming?
Coral farming is the growth and reproduction of corals under controlled environments. It enhances the natural growth process of living corals, using coral’s ability to asexually reproduce or clone itself. Micro fragmentation is the splitting up of a large coral colony into several, much smaller coral colonies. This process can accelerate growth up to 50x than what is ordinarily observed in nature. Corals are farmed for various reasons, typically for profit or to transplant to wild reefs. Farming corals for reef rehabilitation is a viable solution to the loss of coral reefs observed worldwide.
5. Can I grow corals at home?
Yes! In fact, it’s something that I highly recommend! Coral fragging can be a fun and even lucrative hobby. If you want to grow your own corals at home, I recommend beginning with soft corals. They’re hardier, cheaper, and their fast growth rate makes them far more forgiving. You will need a sterile razor blade, some super glue, and aquarium plugs…
With a steady hand, gently slice the coral tissue at the base, separating neighboring polyps. Each frag should contain at least 3-4 polyps and for your first time, maybe start with two or three frags to see how they do. Once you become comfortable with soft corals, you can graduate to hard corals. Numerous channels on YouTube, such as Aarons Aquarium, and Exotic Aquatics also offer tutorials on growing corals at home.
Successful at-home farmers often sell their corals or partake in “coral swaps” or “frag swaps” facilitated by communities like Reef2Reef and Reef Central. Frag swaps are a great way to build your aquarium’s diversity while geeking-out with fellow coral enthusiasts.