How Expensive Corals are Ruining the Hobby

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Reef Currents Corals

Here is a typical scenario for the marine aquarium hobby. A wholesale distributor of aquarium livestock or a random fish store (either online or brick-and-mortar) somehow acquires an amazing piece of coral that is seen virtually no place else. Realizing just how special the piece is, the store stashes it away and only lets a frag or two slip out at a time, and typically at an exorbitant price tag. A random and occasionally descriptive name is usually attached to the coral, and the owners ride out the coral’s exclusivity until the market becomes saturated and drives down the price. This scenario has played out time after time, and while on the surface it may seem like someone just taking advantage of the local market, it has a much farther reaching effect that could impact the aquarium trade as a whole.

For several decades leading up to the current day, the developing island nations from which our livestock originates have typically been devoid of modern technology. Well, the islands may not have been totally in the stone age, per se, but the livestock collectors have either been too poor to obtain the technology or so far removed from modern society that they didn’t see the need or have the desire to use it. But my how things have changed.

Space Invader Pectinia Unique Corals

Even the most basic technology of today grants you internet access, and the collectors for the aquarium trade are spending a greater deal of time researching their industry, including end of the line consumers and what the hot items are. And this is where named corals with huge sticker prices really start to take their toll.

You see, livestock collectors don’t make a lot of money. For fish, it’s typical to see them selling their products at a fraction of what you see at a store. A damsel at Petco might cost you a whopping $5, but the collector may only charge 50 cents to the wholesaler, who in turn only charges a couple of bucks to the fish store. The price jumps from one point of the supply chain to the next are huge in terms of percentages, but are still relatively small amounts. Corals, for the most part, have generally received the same sort of treatment.

Acan Colony SDC

That all started to change over the last several years, however, as collectors have started to pay attention to what people are paying for the corals that they see on the reef every day. The best example I can think of happened when I was working at a fish store in the Houston area. At the time, Australian Acanthastrea lordhowensis colonies were just starting to come into their own. Prices were skyrocketing from one week to the next, and hobbyists were spending anywhere from $200-1000 for single colonies, with the prices varying based on the size and color of the colonies. At the time, the store owner and I were both in awe at how much the wholesalers were charging, and after many conversations, we were told that the wholesalers were paying through the nose as well because the collectors were starting to catch on. The all powerful internet let those collectors see just how much hobbyists were paying for those acans, and other corals, and they figured that they needed a bigger slice of the pie. After all, how was it fair for fish store to charge $500 for something that the collector sold for a tenth of that?

The trend in the hobby today seems to be one that favors all of these small online retailers, who are, on many occasions, just hobbyists who have decided to make a little money off the hobby they’ve come to love. We’re not at all knocking these organizations, but these folks are still entrenched in the hobby aspect of the industry that they focus on these trendy named corals and usually little more than that. They post prices on forums single-eyed chalices that are $500+ or the latest insane zoanthid that fetches $50 per polyp. It’s hard to call the practice irresponsible, especially given the market demand for these corals, but the reason why these corals continue to be so expensive is because collectors are focusing on the price and trying to cash in as well.

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  • Libertas

    Honestly, this is just a market economy at work. I see nothing wrong or unusual with the behavior at any level; from collection to store and hobbyist. Not only will these super high prices drive down collection of wild stocks but there are still plenty of cheaper alternatives for those of us who can’t drop a $100 for a single polyp.

  • that_Reef_Guy

    The title was a bit decieving (As most news articles are online to get you to read them).

    I thought you were going to say that the High Prices keep actual Hobbiest’s from getting into the Hobby.

    Either way I am not upset because I would have read it anyway.

    Can you blame anybody here.

    Of course not.

    The people who get the Coral out of the Ocean deserve more, then the wholesaler must raise the price as the LFS or online store.

    And seriously if you came across an amazing Coral would you give it away cheap.

    No you wouldn’t. Everyone wants to make money so you cannot blame those people either.

    High prices affect any type of Collectible whether it be Coral, Autographs, Coins, Art, etc.

    Everyone want the Rare and beautiful items.

    The good thing about Coral is it can be grown so over time prices drop.

    I just got a Chalice for 60.00 that 5 Years ago sold for 2,800

    If you collect say Coins that type of savings will never happen because they do not make them anymore but we can make more Coral through Fragging and Growing.

    What can you say people are attracted to money.

    But if you cannot afford a Coral today you will be able to one day you just have to wait it out.

    In the mean time there are a Billion other nice Corals you can buy.

  • that_Reef_Guy

    In my Honest opinion I think Expensive Coral actually Bring people in and expand the Hobby.

    How exactly do expensive Corals Ruin the Hobby?

    Please explain.

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  • mpedersen

    So are you trying to say that because we are willing to pay through the nose for some “ultra rare coral”, that it’s wrong for the diver who finds it to actually expect to see a reasonable portion of that?

    I think you have your math a little wrong on your Damselfish pricing example. The collector might get paid $0.05 for that $5.00 damsel at Petco. (Wild Banggais have, at times, garnered as little as $0.03 to the collector).

    Bravo savy collectors (and speciflcally hopefully the divers themselvse) for catching on and demanding more than tenths of a penny on the dollar.

    There are plenty of “cheap” corals out there for those who want “affordable” propagated corals. Since when should the wild stuff be cheap anyway? Particularly since it is the wild stuff where we will likely get our NEW stuff too…

    Better to have divers passing over that which is readily available from mariculture or inland fragging, and instead focusing on the occasional unique new find to bring another genetic into mariculture / propagation, and to be rewarded handsomely for not pillaging the reefs of every last coral simply in the name of having “cheap” livestock here in the US, but instead being highly judicious, harvesting little, and bringing tremendous value to us all. Better for everyone I suspect.

    • Cortez Marine

      Good sense from Aqua Nerd. Open internet pricing On public media teaches exporters to raise the prices relentlessly…..but the “aquarium paparazzi” loves to publish big prices as news items. As an exporter and collector, I can assure you that shippers spend many hours a day looking at American prices to the public and seeing how much they can continually raise their prices. Now even beginners….with more money then experience seem to feel entitled to the rare stuff without learning the basics with more common livestock first. Futhermore, we will certainly have a harder time defending this hobby if seen by outside groups as one increasingly based on scarce and rare species to make sales. As an exporter and collector, I can assure you that shippers spend many hours a day looking at American prices to the public and seeing how much they can continually raise their prices.

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  • Nick

    I personally think that , it is a great thing because it helps preserve the rarest and the most beautiful of the corals, which are usually one in a 100 or even in a 1000 and also as a rule are hard to grow and are extremely demanding.
    For the sake of preserving the nicer specimens that are not as redly available on the reef like Kenya Trees from the hands of those who are inexperienced and put things in a tank without even cycling it. Paying more to the collectors is not such a bad thing even though we are here in america buying these fruity pebbles looking things to put into our tank those usually who collect the corals live in impoverished areas, more money to the collectors brings A) more money to the region, B) creates a great incentive to preserve the coral reefs because they put monetary value, and for some people that could be the only reason to care for something as beautiful as these animals. And the most important thing is that it gives an incentive to people who pay a lot of money for the coral to generally frag it in many many pieces to those who are 1 willing to pay the price and 2 who probably have the equipment to preserve it. Now this further benefits the coral because it ensures that it will have 30 chances to survive instead of sitting as a big piece in one tank that can crash at any second. And lastly i don’t see how an Ice Fire Echinata could be reasonably the same price kenya Tree.

    So to sum it up
    1) Nice looking coral (perhaps extremely rare) is sold to someone who can take care of it.
    2) he shares It with other professional reef keepers.
    3) A noob (which we all were at one point) or a person who don’t care about the hobby but has enough money to buy and kill a nice piece , has no access to a rare colony
    4) Coral is frayed and taken extra care of because of the price tag
    5) Collectors get more money better economy
    6) Better economy in the area better for the reef and for the people.
    7) We all eventually get that coral when it is in abundance and it comes down in price.
    8) It gives more value to our tanks and forces us not to slack of as much if we have a nice piece that we paid for
    9) This is a Collectors hobby and as in every collectors hobby you will pay more for something rare thats just it.

    I think this article was not well thought out,