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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 – 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.

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. [12]


  2. 2.0 2.1 Naseer, Abdulla. "Status of Coral Mining in the Maldives: Impacts and Management Options." Web. Accessed 20 Feb, 2013. <>.
  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. <>
  6. Daley, Ben, and Peter Griggs. "Mining The Reefs And Cays: Coral, Guano And Rock Phosphate Extraction In The Great Barrier Reef, Australia, 1844-1940." Environment & History (09673407) 12.4 (2006): 395-433. Environment Complete. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
  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. Caras, Tamir. 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. <>
  12. 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.