largest ever illegal importation of coral to NZ
Conviction for largest ever illegal importation of coral to NZ
55 year old Charles Yip Mou Lam was convicted in Auckland District Court yesterday for attempting to illegally import 700kg of tropical and sub-tropical coral into New Zealand. The consignment represents New Zealand's biggest single seizure of illegally imported coral to date.
Lam was fined $8,500 and ordered to pay costs totalling $1,880 for one charge of “trading in (by importing) specimens of a threatened species”, namely, stony corals, under the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989.
Officers from the Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG) – a joint agency initiative comprising of personnel from Customs, the Department of Conservation and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry – investigated the matter after the coral was discovered during a NZ Customs Service inspection of a shipping container which had arrived from China. Twenty large polystyrene cartons, each containing various large pieces of coral and six nylon sacks, each containing a large quantity of crushed coral, were seized by the officers.
The coral was identified as the species Scleractinia.
The defendant, Mr Lam, stated that he wanted to build a fish pond in his back yard, and asked his friend in China to buy the things he needed to build the pond.
“The coral was also found to be hosting some 627 "hitchhiker" organisms, attributed to 95 species. Such marine organisms have the potential to greatly damage New Zealand’s marine life and environment. The marine organisms could have entered New Zealand’s waterways if the fish pond or aquarium had been flushed” said Mr Hitchcock.
The coral was hard or stony reef building coral, and was sourced from the central to western Pacific. The importation of stony coral is regulated by The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“Stony coral is a living organism, and as such, it shouldn’t be imported into New Zealand without appropriate CITES importation and quarantine measures being undertaken,” said Mr Hitchcock.
“Not all coral is CITES protected – most imported into New Zealand is by holiday makers and there is a personal exemption for this. Other corals are legally imported by the aquarium and pet fish industry.”