Beachcombing and coral collecting is a fun and relaxing activity…until you get fined. Unfortunately, that is something that might happen to you, if you choose not to familiarize yourself with the state or country laws regarding coral collecting.
In Florida and Hawaii, for example, it is prohibited to take coral from the beach. Some places around the world allow coral collecting, but it doesn’t mean that you should take a few creatures back home – corals are an important part of the beach ecosystem.
Can You Keep Coral Found on the Beach?
The corals that you might find on the beach are already dead. Old, stressed, and diseased coral can break down and then get pushed to the shore.
However, the fact that these creatures are dead doesn’t mean that you should take the coral from the beach.
In fact, in a lot of places collecting corals is strictly prohibited. You might end up paying an enormous fine if you get caught.
Even though from the moral point of view, there is nothing bad about taking dead coral from the beach (as it can’t contribute to the reef any longer), it is practically impossible to tell whether you have found the creature already dead or you have removed a piece of a living coral.
Another reason why taking corals from the beach is not the best idea is because these organisms help form the actual sand. Eventually, the dead creature will get broken down into thousands of pieces that are going to ‘become’ the beach.
With that being said, if there is no law in the area that makes collecting dead corals illegal, you can totally take one or a few as a souvenir.
How to Preserve Coral Found on the Beach
In general, there are two types of coral – soft and hard. These creatures should be treated differently.
You would want to thoroughly clean a hard coral once you find it as there might be some sea life living inside it. Whitening the creature is also a good idea as the process will make the coral a lot prettier.
- Fill a container with cold, fresh water and soak the coral in it for 3 days. This will help get rid of the dirt, salt, and any remaining sea life.
- Prepare a 2 parts bleach and 1 part water solution. Place the coral in the solution – make sure that it is completely covered.
- Leave the creature in the mixture for around 2 days.
- After that, rinse it thoroughly with clean, cold water.
If you are planning on displaying the coral in your aquarium, make sure that all the bleach is removed from the creature (rinse it a couple of times). Bleach can potentially poison the living organisms in your aquarium, so be careful.
If you have collected a soft coral or a sponge, you should forget about bleach as the solution is going to ruin the gentle creature.
Do bear in mind that you won’t be able to make a soft coral hard, so think about how you would want to display it behorehand.
- Once you find a soft coral on the beach, wrap it in a wet paper towel and put it in a plastic bag. Don’t pick up the creatures that smell bad as they might have already started to rot.
- Fill a pitcher with ordinary tap water and carefully rinse the coral. Change the water and keep repeating the process, until the water becomes clear.
- Let the coral soak in water overnight.
- In the morning, rinse the creature a few times again (until the water is clear).
- Place the coral outside to naturally dry for a day or two. You might want to put your collection on an elevated grate so that there is air circulation around the creature.
- Mix tap water with a teaspoon of laundry detergent and gently rinse the coral once again.
- Rinse the creature in tap water to remove any detergent. Be extremely careful as all this handling can easily damage the lovely coral.
- Leave the finds outside, so that they can dry naturally one last time.
After all these steps, the soft coral is finally ready to be displayed.
It might still have a slight ‘seaside’ smell. If that’s something that bothers you, then you can try rinsing the creature with a mixture of water and baking soda.
Can You Take Coral from Hawaii?
In Hawaii, breaking or taking stony coral, including any mushroom or reef coral, is against the law (HAR 13-95-70) . You can’t collect the creatures neither for personal nor for commercial use. First-time offenders could face a fine of up to $5,000.
However, a Special Activity Permit can be given to those people who are willing to collect coral for educational, scientific, or propagation purposes.
You should remember that dead coral is a component in making sand. If everyone were to take a small piece back home, it would definitely impact the health of the beautiful beaches.
By the way, there is also a local superstition that you should be aware of. According to it, if you take coral, rocks, or sand away from their native land, you are going to suffer bad luck until the item gets returned back home.
This superstition might have been made up by the rangers who worked in the National Park and who have gotten fed up with people taking ‘souvenirs’ to the mainland. However, each year, the parks, hotels, and even government offices get mailed hundreds of small rocks with tales of woe.
Can You Take Coral from the Beach in Florida?
Throughout the state of Florida, the collection of sea fans, fire corals, and stony corals is prohibited.
Instead of collecting coral, you might want to try and find a few beautiful seashells. On just about every beach in Florida, it is permitted to pick up shells (do make sure that there is no live animal in it as taking any live creatures from the shore is illegal).