Black Pearls Sustainable, Black Coral Not Sustainable: Is The Jewelry You Buy Environmentally Friendly?
People Love the color black. Black gowns, black tie dinners, Johnny Cash, black pearl jewelry and a black pearl necklace. Black is classic. Black is hip. Except if it is black coral. Black coral has been collected to decimating levels. It can be found off the coasts of Mexico and Belize. Mexico and Belize are starting to protect the coral, but it is still being poached and decimated.
Ambergris Caye is is part of a string of barrier islands protecting main land Belize. It is a resort destination off the beaten path and protected by a reef. Arriving at the airport in San Pedro, crossing the tarmac and walking into town with the smell of the sea and the billowing white clouds above, it is easy to relax and feel like a piece of paradise has been found. But out in the ocean, by the reef, a battle is raging. The coral reef is a fragile ecosystem. Belize has the second largest reef system in the world behind the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. This attractsvisitors, especially divers. A lot of visitorssnorkel and dive to explore the reef. Not all the tourists appreciate the delicate world they are entering. Even cautious divers can leave behind damage. Moving beneath a ledge can leave air bubbles that are harmful to sea life. Clueless or thoughtless visitors can easily bump up against the reef causing damage.
More threatening to reefs and black coral in particular, is commercial trade. This ebony coral creates amazingjewelry. It is sleek and beautiful. Black coral is also endangered. In Belize there are regulatory agencies that allow coral to be harvested by some commercial merchants. They are supposed to only collect the dead coral that has fallen and lying on the bottom. While many of the merchants are vigilante and protective of the coral, there are still abuses occurring. Most traders concur that protecting the coral is in their best interest. A unique commodity is a more valuable product and claims a better price.
In Mexico, a lot of coral traders justify their harvest by claiming that there are vast beds deeper down. The current research doesn’t support this. The studies have found few beds with marginal health. Not to mention, different depths provide different habitats. Harvesting shallow coral overwhelmingly affects a specific habitat. While black coral does well in the deep, it is still an essential component of the reef eco-system.
A great method to preserve black coral is to decrease the demand for it. Purchasing black coral is similar to purchasing poached ivory- it comes at a devastating price to the environment. Being aware of the origins of any thing may take some effort, but the effort could be saving a valuable natural wonder. Jewelry is a wonderful gift, a lovely thing to wear, but it can come from resources that are less threatened then black coral.