Sea fans’ illegal trade fans green concerns

Sea fans, invertebrate sea animals, form a critical part of coral reef systems. They are increasingly being sold as luck-bringing plants. Pic For Representation Purpose Only

Two men were arrested in Ballari recently for trying to sell 400 sea fans, an invertebrate sea animal which forms a critical part of coral reef systems.

The arrests, which were made by members of the Forest Mobile Squad in Ballari on Monday, constitute the first such seizures of sea fans in Karnataka, according to wildlife conservationists.

“The seizure highlights that the trade in endangered or protected animals has now expanded to marine life,” the source said, adding that the animals originated from coral systems in Indian waters.

The arrests were made following a tip-off by the NGO, Traffic, which monitors the illegal trade in protected animals. The Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Vigilance) Seema Garg acknowledged that the arrests had taken place but declined to comment, saying that the “matter is under investigation.” The Forest Department will issue a statement once there is clarity on the matter, she added.

According to a source familiar with the matter, however, the two arrested men are wholesalers.

The source added that increasing numbers of sea fans are turning up in the black market where they are sold as “good luck charms.” 

Smugglers and sellers are increasingly taking to social media to sell the creatures. Investigators recently came across a Facebook post advertising the animals for sale. The Facebook page, which was in Kannada, declared, “If you keep this single unit of plant at home, all your problems will be solved.” 

According to Dr Ravichandra Reddy, a professor of Fisheries from Bangalore University who has conducted seminars on marine biodiversity, said that sea fans constitute a critical component of coral life, in that they are part of the food chain for various species of fish.

“Removal of these creatures from coral reef results in their immediate death. More importantly, their removal from a coral ecosystem impacts other marine life in the ecosystem,” Dr Reddy said. 

An investigation is being conducted to determine if the animals originated from the Andaman Islands chain.

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