Bali’s Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) claims there were indications the illegal smuggling of the island’s coral reefs to foreign markets had increased lately.
“In the first five months of 2011, agency officials foiled three smuggling attempts,” agency head Tamen Sitorus said Saturday, adding that the number of actual smuggling attempts that went undetected was likely higher.
The latest smuggling attempt was made early last week. BKSDA officials intercepted a shipment of 1.25 tons of stony corals at Ngurah Rai International Airport. The stony corals, packed in 55 boxes and destined for Belgium, were estimated to have a resale value of Rp 7.5 million (US$878).
“The monetary value is not high but all stony corals are protected species under CITES,” he stressed.
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) aims to ensure the international trade on specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It lists more than 33,000 animal and plant species that require protection.
Appendix II lists 32,500 species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless the trade in such species is strictly regulated.
“We made the bust when officials inspected a shipment by CV Marine Shellco, a company based in Jimbaran, South Kuta. The cargo manifest stated that the contents of the cargo was artificial reefs. However, our inspection showed that the content was natural reefs,” Tamen added.
The officials questioned company director Alfredo Leonard, who admitted to purchasing the coral from fishermen in Serangan Island, South Denpasar, and Bayuwangi, East Java. He said he paid Rp 7,000 per coral. “He could sell it overseas at five times that price,” Tamen added.
The agency said it would charge Alfredo Leonard with violating a 1999 regulation on the utilization of wild animals and plants, which carries a maximum fine of Rp 250 million. The article does not carry a jail sentence.
“In February we foiled an attempt to smuggle coral to Thailand and on April we foiled a similar attempt to ship 33 boxes of coral to Israel,” Tamen added.
All the confiscated coral has been replanted in the sea.
“By replanting the coral we hope to minimize the damage caused by these illegal activities,” Tamen said.
CTC (Coral Triangle Center) learning sites manager Marthen Welly admitted that coral smuggling had increased in Bali. Ironically, most of the smuggling attempts are carried out by companies working on coral cultivation. “A common method is by inserting coral harvested from nature in a shipment of coral produced through cultivation,” he said.
Harvesting natural coral is prohibited by law, he stressed, and taking coral out of its natural habitat for cultivation and conservation efforts must be done in accordance with strict guidelines.
“I regret the fact that many fishermen are still involved in illegally harvesting natural coral for commercial purposes. But we can not place all the blame on them. They probably do not understand the important role and position of coral reefs for the survival of the underwater ecosystem,” Marthen said.