Editor’s note: With the continuing trend for sustainable sourcing in cosmetics R&D, the following article offers a case study on the research conducted for and harvest methods of a particular marine-derived cosmetic ingredient, Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae. While less technical in nature than typical Cosmetics & Toiletries articles, it is intended to provide insight into one sustainability model to assist product developers following this path.
Coral reefs are one of the oldest and most biologically diverse eco- systems on earth. They support hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species, protect coastlines, provide food and form the basis of local economies for millions of people. The annual net benefit of coral reefs is more than US$1 billion in the United States, and their estimated value globally is US $30 billion.1 Unfortunately, coral reefs are sensitive ecosystems. A combination of direct and indirect anthropogenic effects in concert with natural events has led to decades of decline in reef health. As much as 70% of the world’s coral reefs may be lost by 2050.2
Human interference with coral reefs has been both direct and indirect. Overfishing, destructive fishing techniques, pollution, introductions of invasive species and land use policies that affect coastal water quality have all had adverse effects on reefs. On a larger scale, long-term changes in water temperature and ocean acidity are affecting and will continue to affect coral reefs. Moreover, the effects of natural events, such as hurricane damage and disease outbreaks may be amplified on reefs that have weakened ecosystems. Some of these effects are chronic and cumulative, while others only appear when a critical breaking point is reached. For example, large fleshy macro algae have always been a constituent of coral reef communities, but they have reached high abundances on many reefs, and the algae interfere with the survival and growth of corals and may have altered the long-term survival of coral reef communities.
The complexity of coral reef ecosystems, the diverse array of threats affecting reefs and the limited information on them makes it difficult to measure the effect of a single threat or event, but it is clear that the persistence of coral reefs will require careful management of direct human interactions with reef ecosystems as well as changes in global scale practices that affect climate change.
A significant component of the value of reef ecosystems is that they are the source of a variety of extractable resources. The development or maintenance of sustainable practices for the harvesting of those resources is equally important to reef health. The aim of this paper is to review the harvest practices carried out by these authors as associated with the utilization of the octocoral Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae, and to discuss the harvest, knowledge and nature of research required to ensure the sustainability of the species.