Leave precious coral where it belongs

The following article is published courtesy of National Jeweler

Author: Temple St. Clair

Temple St. Clair is a New York City-based jewelry designer who speaks out on humanitarian and environmental issues. She is encouraging other jewelers to find alternatives to using precious coral in fine jewelry.

Inspiration for jewelry and fashion design comes from many different places and influences, but perhaps no influence is as universal as the natural world around us.

You see it in many pieces and lines from artists and producers the world over; nature is–in many ways–a natural fit in our industry.

But each day, we are learning more about the impacts, both good and bad, that each of us has on the natural world–in the work that we do and in the products we support and create for our customers. The choices we make have real cause and effect.

Earlier this year at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties, leaders from around the world appeared to have not gotten that message as they turned what promised to be solid support for protecting marine species into two weeks of stunning setbacks for conservation. In what, unfortunately, became the theme of the meeting, red and pink coral–often used in jewelry, fashion and home décor–was left with no international trade protection.

There is clearly a need for protection as the United States alone imported more than 28 million pieces of red and pink coral between 2001 and 2008.

Red and pink coral are living animals that are often mistakenly thought of as plants or rocks. They are among the world’s most valuable wildlife commodities and they have been intensively fished for centuries to meet consumer demand for jewelry and curios.

These long-lived species support some of the slowest-growing fisheries in the world. They grow less than one millimeter a year and can live to be 100 years and older. More than 30 to 50 metric tons of coral are taken from the sea each year, but unlike other coral species in trade, red and pink coral receive no international trade protection.

Corals of all kinds, including precious red and pink coral, are vital to a healthy ocean. Shallow water coral reefs provide food and shelter for 25 percent of marine fish species, and bring in an estimated $375 billion annually in tourism and recreational funds, as well as providing medicinal and environmental services. However, climate change, pollution, ocean acidification, destructive fishing and direct removal for use in the jewelry, home décor and aquarium industries all contribute to the loss of the world’s corals and reefs.

Using living animals and natural resources in a non-sustainable way is not what the jewelry industry is about.  And we can lead the way in showing that conservation is fashionable. Even though governments failed to protect precious coral at the recent CITES meeting, individual designers and retailers–of all sizes–can still turn the tide: Make a pledge to design, create, sell or offer only coral-inspired pieces in your collections, not coral-derived items.

What we do as an industry and as individuals matters more now than ever before, especially on this issue. I am proud to support coral conservation through the “Too Precious to Wear” campaign and I urge others to do the same. Launched by SeaWeb and a committed group of designers, this effort seeks to raise awareness of both deep-sea coral and shallow-water coral reefs as living animals and to address the threat international trade poses to coral.

Now in its third year, the Too Precious to Wear campaign counts a growing list of jewelry, fashion and home décor designers and retailers among its supporters, including Lilly Pulitzer, Tiffany and Co., Pottery Barn, Lela Rose, Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock of Vena Cava, Melissa Joy Manning, Robin Renzi of Me and Ro, Monique Péan, Leber Jewelers, Kimberly McDonald, Hannah Garrison, Simon Cardwell of Cheeky Monkey Jewelry, Michael Aram, Chantecaille and many others.

The campaign and its supporters are calling on all members of the fashion and design communities to join in the pledge to not use real red or pink coral until meaningful management measures are in place and populations are on the road to recovery. Visit Too PreciousToWear.org to join the pledge.

Our industry has a proud tradition of supporting efforts such as the “No Dirty Gold” campaign and the Kimberley Process to keep conflict diamonds out of the trade. Adding coral to our industry’s conservation efforts can have a powerful effect on the marketplace and ensure that these precious animals are left where they belong–in the ocean.

This story first appeared in the June 2010 print edition of National Jeweler.

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2 thoughts on “Leave precious coral where it belongs

  1. Thank you sharing such a valuable information with us, and raising such an important issue. we highly appreciate your efforts in this regards.

    Hj

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