While there's enough coral in the ocean for Melissas, he says other people shouldn't import or export it because "it's a fragile ecosystem that needs to not be messed with." Although his website sells lamps made from coral for $375 each and eight-piece assorted coral collections for $368, he points the finger at a curio wholesaler in Texas that he says supplies to Walmart and Michaels, the retail craft chain. They're doing the real damage, he implies, going on to state there "must be some ethical limits to the dollar bill."

Asked about the seized coral from the Solomon Islands, Melissas looks uneasy at first. His wife wanders into the kitchen and, seemingly sensing the subject has been broached, comments it's good that New Times is recording the interview. Melissas says he never imports coral directly but admits he buys "from people who import from there," though he won't identify those people. "If the price was right, I bought it. I wasn't the only one buying it."

Melissas spews disgust for Fish and Wildlife's investigation. It took about eight people to pull that batch of coral from the water, he says, and it was perfectly fine because shipping channels were being cut through the area and the coral was being reseeded (sources familiar with the investigation say that is doubtful given the volume of coral and species targeted for collection).

Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation shows off a piece of coral.
Tim Grollimund
Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation shows off a piece of coral.
Divers check on corals that were transplanted from a nursery to the Florida Reef Tract.
Tim Grollimund
Divers check on corals that were transplanted from a nursery to the Florida Reef Tract.

Most important, he says, there was no intentional mislabeling of the coral. Rather, overzealous inspectors "hyped it to the max" to appear as though they had made a big bust.

"A piece of lace coral looks a little bit like a piece of bird's-nest coral," he says. "And these are uneducated island people, almost Aborigines, packaging it up. And you're expecting them to know [how to label it?]"

Melissas claims that other containers, packed with the same species and labeled the same exact way as the July 2010 shipment, have passed through different ports without any hindrance.

His face contorts into an exaggerated expression of alarm when he's told that the coral seized in July 2010 at the Port of Tampa has an estimated worth of $500,000 to $1 million. Lowering his head so that his mouth is positioned an inch from a tape recorder, he booms, "They lied. They lied!" His voice blasts through the kitchen. "Fish and Wildlife definitely threw up on the American public when they said it was worth that much... A 40-foot semi, completely full, average price is 18 grand. My Greek cross to God."

Melissas raises his caterpillar eyebrows, pats his back pocket, and likens the $1 million appraisal to cops who exaggerate a weed bust by appraising it at street value, not its wholesale price. (Sources familiar with the ongoing investigation readily admit that some of the shipments were accompanied by invoices that were about $30,000 for a full container; the $500,000 to $1 million estimate is the retail value, they say.)

"Coral is not expensive, because it is plentiful — especially corals that are dying to begin with," he says. "There's a company in California that doesn't lose one piece of coral, and they bring in a 40-footer every 30 days... I could never buy all the coral offered to me."

Whether a container of coral is worth $18,000 or $1 million seems like petty quibbling when one considers it could soon be extinct. Although Melissas may be accustomed to bulk purchases of coral, scientists are not, and most are dismayed when told about the shipments in Tampa.

Lunz is still heartbroken about the quantity of coral she has inspected over the past two years. After the federal investigation wraps up, she intends to publish a scientific paper detailing the extent of ecological destruction represented by these shipments.

"The curio trade is alive and well, and I don't think people, scientists included, realize the magnitude of it," Lunz says. "From my scientific, expert opinion, I'm seeing a trade... that may no longer be sustainable."

As for that first giant batch of coral she inspected, it took two tractor-trailers to move the seized portion to Nova Southeastern University's Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach, where it remains today. There are still moldy boxes bearing the logo of SolBrew, a lager from the Solomon Islands, wrapped around a few of the skeletons. A dead lizard and dust have replaced the dead starfish and crabs. Some of the colonies are neatly packaged in large Tupperware-like bins, some are strewn across a table, and a few are being cleaned so they can be used for coral-education efforts. So much coral was sent to the university that a small team of graduate students had to be assembled to sort through and organize it.

And still, that's only one-half of one shipment to one port.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
19 comments
xxxriainxxx
xxxriainxxx

George Melissas is a liar and a thief and wholesale plunderer of Philippine corals, taking advantage of the weak enforcement of laws in a country like the Philippines. Millions of poor Filipinos depend on fishing in the Philippines for their livelihood and for their own daily sustenance and fish catches are dwindling no thanks to Shell Horizons and operations like theirs.

Anna
Anna

Below is part of this article which i think the writer is confused him or herself and shows little knowledge about corals.. This makes sense to what i am saying that CLEAN SEA WATER as in the South Pacific is best for coral growth and Polluted sea waters in Florida or USA kills or destroys corals.. When it rains and all the rivers runs down to the sea with all the land development wastes and polluted the sea and kills these coral animals...

In simple terms, the corals that people took out of the reefs is a finished product that these millions of coral animals built, In clean sea water, when you break the coral, every single broken pcs of coral that is dropped back into the clean sea will become a new coral because the coral animals will continue to built it again. In clean sea in the South Pacific it can only take 6 - 10 months for corals to grow from 1" to 12" for the fast growing species.

" Most people don't even know coral is an animal. But corals hunt, eat, poop, and have sex. They even have huge orgies. For many species, once a year, shortly after sunset on the night of a full moon, masses of coral simultaneously release sacs of reproductive cells, turning the water into a cloudy primordial soup of sperm and eggs."

From the above, it shows the writer of this article has done no reseach in where these corals were taken from. It also shows the writer is only doing it for economical reasons. Maybe they might financial benefits from other buyers who this new trade market is affecting their business...

Kibba
Kibba

It doesn't sound so bad if the reefs are only being decimated. That is, reduced by 10%.

Could it possibly be worse than the headline suggests?

Anna
Anna

You people do not understand,,, we have some so called scientists who sits in their locked offices and acts like they knew everything happening around the world. There has been enough evidence that sea pollution is the greatest causes of coral depletion and death. 80% of Floridas coral reef were destroyed by Human pollution of the sea.. For the South Pacific where these corals came from do not have the sea pollution that you have in Florida and other US states..

Let me educate this so scientist that wrote this un reseached piece of nonsense.. Take the sea from Miami reefs and put it in a tank and put corals inside to grow.. At the same time take the coral from the harvested reefs in the South Pacific and put into a tank to grow.. There is a difference in the sea pollution vs clean sea harvesting of corals.

It is a Scientific Knowledge and Local knowledge that the actual harvesting or breaking of the corals will help the coral to multiply.. every single broken pcs of coral will be come a new coral.. Coral is like grass, the more you harvest it or break it, the more it will grow..

The point i am making is clean sea is vital for coral growth and breaking of the coral will help for more corals to grow... Polluted sea water caused by Human developments is the greatest killer of the coral reefs..

Get you facts right and clean up your backyard before telling others what to do.

Give the South Pacific.

Nancy
Nancy

Oh shit, you should be a "REAL" scientist

Bebep
Bebep

I don't think breaking coral and selling it dried up in a store is helping anything.

And yeah, no shit that pollution is bad for sea life. Thanks for the facts scientist.

What the hell does pollution have to do with taking coral out of the water and selling it dead in a store? Great argument you got going on.

Anna
Anna

People in the South Pacific with clean sea waters took corals because people in USA want them...people in USA wants them in their homes, offices. What then is your problem?.. Do little economics law of demand and supply...what right then you have on other people wanting to do with their lifes?.. Should we stop you eating meat because you are contributing to killing animals?? the whole world is going crazy..

Carol Sobieski
Carol Sobieski

How stupid are some people to ruin the undersea plant life? I'm not an expert in this area but even I know you don't take any of that stuff away with you.

Anna
Anna

Human development, cites and inland infrastructures, mining etc.. All the activities and wastes washed down into the ocean are the greatest contribution to the undersea life..

Clean sea water will always makes corals grow..

Anna
Anna

You all hypocrites...how many years have the so called first world have contributed to the destruction of the marine life.. how many of your human wastes have ended up in the ocean?..all your inland developments wasted ended up in ocean destroying marine life..

Now you are blaming a few third world countries for destroying your reefs... common...it might be a few trinkets for you rich people for the developing countries, it money making a difference in the peoples lifes.

Marilyn Schulz
Marilyn Schulz

This is so reflective of the insanity of the present.. We don't do this dumb shit

Anna
Anna

You read further in the article and you will see the truth...80% of the coral reefs in Florida were destroyed by Human Development.it does not say commercial harvesting...do not blame those half way around the world for you what you have contributed to destroy.. The south pacific ocean has no big cites and land development as you do ... corals will always live forever and ever...

The wise one.
The wise one.

Id rather pay top money for the Beheaded person's heads that are going around the planet doing this horrific acts! It'd be a GREAT conversation piece!!!

Anna
Anna

so the coral is more important that a human life...you must be a sick one and should be thrown to the sharks for a feed

d2xyz
d2xyz

Worry about your own backyard. The proposed dredging at the port of miami is about to kill the octocoral on the reef off of miami beach for the vague prospect of increased shipping traffic. The thinking is that there are too many to relocate, so we'll kill them all.

aaron b
aaron b

Ah. That is not true at all. Our company just put in a bid for the massive task of replanting and mitigating the affected coral.

D2xyz
D2xyz

Those would be hard corals my friend. The octocorals are too numerous.

<<EasyCash At Home>>
<<EasyCash At Home>>

In oneself lies the whole world and if you know howto look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself.

 
Loading...