Fad Corals

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Australian Lord Coral for sale online. Strictly Frags Image.

[edit] Viewpoint: Artificial Price Inflation of Aquarium Corals

By Mike Maddox

I'd like to talk about about "fad corals," and the price inflation it causes in the reefkeeping hobby.

In recent years, (mostly due to the popularity explosion of reefkeeping, and subsequently the large numbers of online coral vendors), various coral species have become the "in" coral of the day, and the prices of these corals have skyrocketed.

Law of supply and demand you say? Higher prices benefit the reef, conservation efforts, and the poverty-stricken collectors, you say? Nay. Prices are driven up artificially by a combination of the consumer's "must have" attitude towards that species and vendors purposefully restricting the number of corals they sell in a given amount of time.

If you've been reefkeeping for five years or so, I'm sure you remember the "Acan Craze" (and if you don't, read on). Various species of the Acanthastrea genus (most notable A. lordhowensis or the Australian Lord Coral) became so popular that they were selling for $50+ per polyp. Before this species became a "fad coral" it had been selling for $50 per colony.

[edit] Aussie Lords

People grew obsessed with having "Acan Lords" in all colors, and collected them as if they were a rare, scarce commodity. The odd thing was, they weren't (and aren't). This species is very easily collected (I've literally walked out into the surf and picked up colonies), and it is very commonly imported. In fact, it became more commonly imported.

Why was the price so high, you ask? Vendors began restricting sales because the consumers were willing to pay outrageous prices! In fact, Acananthastrea spp. sold much more at $50/polyp than they ever did at $50/colony. Why?

It was advertised as "Rare! Hard to find! Unique color morph!" and more by the vendors, and the consumers ate it up, excited to own a "one of a kind coral" (there's no such thing, as those of us who have been on a reef know) and gladly paid through the nose.

The “Acan Craze” is just one example, although I could list a half dozen species/color variations that experienced the same artificial price inflation.

Why is this artificial inflation a bad thing?

Firstly, it means vendors are lying to their customers. There isn't a shortage of A. lordhowensis, there never was, and they're not rare or hard to get. However, in response to unreasonable consumer obsession, vendors were able to command a premium price for an incredibly common species.

[edit] Inflated Prices

Secondly, avoid buying fad corals because artificial price inflation doesn't benefit the hobby whatsoever. The only person benefiting is the middleman/vendor, who has no real effect on the import/export/legislation of our hobby and basically only cares about his profit margin (with a few exceptions, of course).

The wholesaler doesn't benefit by making an increased profit, which means the collecting station doesn't receive more profits, which means the collectors aren't making any more money to take home to their families. Keep in mind that corals are collected from Third World countries, and the collectors are paid in the area of a few dollars a day. If the profits from greedy aquarists wanting the latest "rare corals because they're rare!" were filtering all of the way down to the collector trying to feed his family, I wouldn't be writing this.

Don't buy "fad" corals. I don't care what the advertising says, they are not "unique" or "one of a kind," and I seriously doubt any of them is "rare." In fact, don’t even buy from vendors that are artificially pricing their corals at outrageous sums. Why pay $700 for a colony that the vendor paid $10 for?

Believe me, it'll cost $70 next year, when a new species has replaced its status as the "unique, one of a kind, ultra rare" fad coral.

This article is also available in an interactive blog format at: Mike Maddox Live. Comments are invited.