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Black Coral in Hawaii

Black coral the gemstone of Hawaii

Example of black coral the gemstone of Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Deborah Ponce.

Black Coral the Gemstone of Hawaii

Why is Black coral the gemstone of Hawaii? Black coral belongs to a group of thorny corals called antipatharians. The Hawaiians call it ‘ēkaha kū moana. More than 15 of the world’s black coral species are found in the Aloha State. The ancient Hawaiians once used black coral as a medicinal powder. Today, many people buy black coral in the form of jewelry. The State of Hawaii designated black coral as the State gemstone in 1987.

Black corals are colonial animals like sea anemones and stony corals. People call them black coral because of the color of their black or brownish skeleton. Scientists have identified more than 150 species of black corals worldwide. Some black corals grow as a single, spiral coil. While others have tree-like branches.

One can find black corals in all oceans. But divers can most commonly find them in deep water habitats of tropical and subtropical seas. Researchers believe black coral can flourish under low light levels. This helps to explain why divers in Hawaii typically see black corals in deep reef environments. This is especially true in the Au’au Channel between Maui and Lanai at depths exceeding 200 feet.

Black Coral Jewelry

The Au’au Channel has been the foundation for Hawaii’s black coral industry. Black coral has been actively harvested in Hawaii for the manufacturing of jewelry since the late 1950s.

Popular types of black coral jewelry include necklaces, pendants, rings and earrings. However, due to over harvesting and invasion by foreign species, there are questions over the sustainability of Hawaii’s black coral industry. New regulations have been in place since 2005. They limit the harvesting of black coral below certain height and trunk sizes.

The most well-known manufacturer and retailer of black coral jewelry in Hawaii is Maui Divers. This company has been operating in Hawaii since 1959. But some prominent jewelers on mainland have stopped selling black coral jewelers. This is because they claim black coral is on the list of the world endangered species. Maui Divers has countered by saying the industry has worked cooperatively with the State and Federal agencies to preserve the species. They feel that the Hawaii black coral industry will continue to remain sustainable, unlike in other areas such as the Mediterranean Sea.

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