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Coral Mining

Purpose of Mining

Burning coral to produce lime [1]

Coral is mined throughout the world for many purposes. The most common use of coral is to turn it into limestone or a cement substitute for use as a building material. In many island nations – a notable example being the Maldives, where a 1995 study showed that 20,000 cubic meters of coral/yr were collected solely for construction materials – this is the cheapest material to use to build their roads, houses, and seawalls [2]. Coral can also be made into calcium supplements or burned to produce lime. This lime production happens often in Australia, because their farmland is very acidic.Lime is needed to raise the pH of the soil, which can increase crop yields. The Great Barrier Reef provides a ready and available source of coral and is fairly cheap, since only a permit is required to harvest coral in specific areas. [3]. Jewelry made from coral is a popular tourist souvenir for those who do not realize the impact this has on the reef. Coral is often mined by locals to fashion into jewelry to sell to visitors. Coral is also useful in the medical field for bone graph clinical trials. Finally, live coral is harvested to be used by the marine aquarium industry [4].

Methods for Mining


One method to extract coral is to blast it with dynamite which breaks the coral up into smaller pieces that can be easily carried inshore [4]. This negatively affects a large area of the reef and tends to result in more damage than manually removing coral.

Mining coral [5]


Another method is for collectors to manually retrieve the coral and break up the larger corals, using iron bars, into more manageable pieces to carry to the shore [3] [2].

Location of Mining

Coral mining can take place anywhere where coral is available in a convenient location such as off of cays in shallow water. Mining usually occurs at low tide when it is easier to gather the coral. Some prominent locations for mining activity include: the Great Barrier Reef [6], the Maldives [7][8], Panama [9], Indonesia [10], and East Africa [3].

Impacts of Mining

Flattened coral [11]

Loss in Biodiversity

One of the most significant effects of mining coral is that it causes a loss in biodiversity. By taking out chunks of coral and rock from the reef, substrate is lost. Therefore, any coral polyps that come to the area cannot attach themselves to permanent structures and recruitment is decreased. The simple act of removing and breaking up coral causes disturbance to the sea floor and leaves remnants behind. This causes increased sedimentation and any coral that is left may not survive due to the lack of sunlight and lower temperatures.

Erosion/Land Retreat

Coral reefs also act as protection to the land just beyond it. When a reef is partially or completely removed, the shore becomes more vulnerable to storms and other natural disasters. This can cause the land to retreat and impact the safety of any remaining parts of the reef. Surprisingly, the harvesting of live corals for the aquarium industry do not have much of an impact of the reef when done in an environmentally friendly manner (not removing all individuals in a populations, allows for regrowth/repopulation). This is because only pieces of coral are taken and much of the larger structure is left intact. The left over parts of the coral can regenerate, making harvesting somewhat sustainable, but only if sufficient time is left between harvests for the coral to regrow.

Slow Recovery

Reefs that have been mined extensively can take 20 years or more to recover. This is mainly due to the aforementioned loss in substrate and loss in biodiversity. Reefs have taken thousands of years to be built naturally, so it is not surprising to see long recovery times.

Economic Loss

In many locations around the world, coral reefs are used as a source of food and tourism. The fishing and tourism industries have been negatively affected by mining causing economic losses to communities that depend on them. For every $10 that is made from mining, the surrounding community actually loses $254. Even mismanaging 1 sq. kilometer of reef results in the loss of $6.6 million. However, it is estimated that each year, the value of material taken from reefs is $375 billion. This means that mining is very lucrative in the short term. It is the long term that needs to be focused on if coral reefs are to survive for future generations. [10]

Coral Mining Around the World

East Africa: Due to rapid decline in the health of many of their coral reefs, East African countries are starting to prioritize conservation and management of coral reef resources. In East Africa, and in many other countries, this is primarily executed through initiatives that increase the number of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). An MPA is described as an area, or cluster of areas, in the ocean where human activity is strictly regulated for the purpose of conservation. [12] However, the problem with many of these initiatives is that they are occurring after the coral has already been severely damaged. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique, as of 2004, 10% of coral reefs had been completely destroyed or were the brink of being destroyed, with minimal chances of recovery. Of the reefs that are still left standing, more than 30% in Kenya, and 20% in Tanzania and Mozambique are at high risk of becoming completely damaged to the point of no recovery. [13] Several of these catastrophes have been attributed to poor MPA regulation techniques. In fact, about 84% of MPA managers throughout the world have claimed that inadequate funding is the cause of ineffective conservation. [12]

Southeast Asia: Similarly, coral reefs in Southeast Asia are also experiencing detrimental effects from unsustainable human activity and poor management of MPAs. 50% of the coral reefs in Southeast Asia are at high threat levels, and only 12% remain at low risk. Considering that only 14% of Southeast Asia’s MPA’s have been considered “effectively managed”, this risk factor is likely to increase. [14] In order to compensate for the lack of reef management, the “Reefs at Risk Project” was developed in SE Asia to raise awareness of indicators, causes and effects of coral reef damage.

The Caribbean: The Caribbean has been experiencing problems similar to those of East Africa and Southeast Asia. Particularly in the Caribbean, coral reefs have been highly threatened due to local community practices of farming and transporting corals. The Caribbean actually holds the highest percentage of MPAs in the entire world; however, less than 30% of these MPAs have been deemed successful or effectively managed. [15] The poor management is attributed primarily due to the lack of resources and funding from both local and federal governments.

International Regulations

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is primarily responsible for the monitoring of trade. CITES has created a list of nearly 2,000 species of coral and fish that are in danger, with the goal of protecting them from international trade. The two levels of protection consist of: Appendix 1: Species in threat of extinction, trade only permitted on very rare occasions Appendix 2: Species that could potentially be threatened by trade (all coral species); regulated with permits for importers and exporters, as well as assessments on how trade of species affects the entire ecosystem [16]

The issue with this, as stated so far throughout the Wiki, is that many countries do not have the resources to enforce CITES policies.

Ways to Improve Policies Evidently, policies on coral reef protection and funding for the enforcement of these policies must improve in order to prevent further demolition of the coral reefs. In order to do so, several steps must be taken, including taking precautionary, rather than reactionary, measures. Currently, regulations are only truly enforced in areas where coral reefs are depleted, but policymakers must work to create regulations that prevent unsustainable practices from the start. Additionally, there must be a decrease in U.S. imports of wild coral reef species, an increase ecological reserves of coral reefs, established policies that limit harvesting to a more sustainable level, education of consumers about effects of coral mining, and opportunities for alternative careers for local communities. [16]


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  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Nicholas K. Dulvy, Damon Stanwell-Smith, William R. T. Darwall and Chris J. Horrill Ambio. Coral Mining at Mafia Island, Tanzania: A Management Dilemma. Vol. 24, No. 6 (Sep., 1995), pp. 358-365. 20 Feb. 2013.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Coral Reef Alliance. "Mining and Harvesting". Web. Accessed 20 Feb, 2013. <>
  5. <>
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  7. Dawson Shepherd, Alec R, Warwick, Richard M., Clarke, K. Robert, & Brown, Barbara E. An analysis of fish community responses to coral mining in the Maldives. Environmental biology of fishes 33.4 01 Apr 1992: 367-380. Springer. 20 Feb. 2013.
  8. Clark, S., and AJ Edwards. "Use of Artificial Reef Structures to Rehabilitate Reef Flats Degraded by Coral Mining in the Maldives." Bulletin of Marine Science 55 (1994): 724-44. Articles +. 20 Feb. 2013.
  9. Guzmán, Héctor M., Carlos Guevara, and Arcadio Castillo. "Natural Disturbances And Mining Of Panamanian Coral Reefs By Indigenous People." Conservation Biology 17.5 (2003): 1396. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Caras, Tamir, Pasternak, Zohar . Long-term environmental impact of coral mining at the Wakatobi marine park, Indonesia. Ocean & coastal management 52.10 2009: 539-544. Elsevier. 20 Feb. 2013.
  11. <>
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  13. Obura, David, and Julie Church. “Status of Coral Reefs in East Africa 2004: Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.” Status of Coral Reefs of the World. 2004. 171–188. Marine Cultures. Web. 3 Jan. 2016. <>.
  14. Burke, Lauretta. “Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia.” WRI Publications (2002): 1–72. World Resources Institute. Web. 3 Feb. 2016. <>.
  15. Lucking, Mary Ann. “Federal Government Must Protect Caribbean Coral Reefs.” EarthJustice 14 Nov. 2013: n. pag. EarthJustice. Web. 3 Jan. 2016. <>.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Wolcott, Henry. “Coral Reef Mining, Harvest and Trade.” The Coral Reef Alliance, 2005. Web. 3 Jan. 2016. <>.