Tom Goreau, Dec. 19 2002  

There has been a recent surge of promotion selling "coral calcium pills". Selling ground up coral skeleton as a natural source of calcium is an endlessly recurring scam that hucksters pick up on every few years like clockwork.  My colleague Wolf Hilbertz has a bottle of coral tablets someone was peddling in the 1960s.  

Actually coral skeleton is very pure calcium carbonate, unless the coral is from a very muddy place and has included sediment grains, whose composition will vary from place to place. It contains no meaningful nutrients except a lot of calcium with traces of magnesium and strontium, but it is fundamentally no different nutritionally than any other form of limestone, including oyster shells, or ground up limestone rocks or marbles, which are certain to be nutritionally richer in trace metals.  Actually the best form to take calcium is in organically chelated form, say calcium gluconate, which is much more readily absorbed by the stomach. The claim that corals build strong bones in humans than other forms of calcium is pure hype! 

Corals are vanishing everywhere and any mining of live corals for this trade should be stamped out. Mining of dead corals should not be a problem unless they are part of a dead reef that is still helping to protect the shore from erosion. There are such vast supplies of limestone on land, that these shouldn't have to be mined either.

A recent web site presents information on coral mining in Okinawa, see, "coral wars", claiming that there is large scale mining of both reef coral sediments, and limestone formations on land, which are referred to as "dirty" limestone. It further claims that they are mining coral sand without harming corals and that the reefs are in excellent condition.  While it is true that limited amounts of sand mining can be carried out without harming reefs, in most cases the mining operations increase suspended sediment turbidity, and plumes of this turbid water drift onto corals, where they severely stress or kill them. My late friend Zenji Yoshimine, lost his life photographing the long-term decline of Okinawa coral reefs. Most were killed by mud washing from land after unwise large scale deforestation and land bulldozing operations. Some died from sewage pollution. And in 1998, almost all the surviving corals died from high temperatures caused by global warming. Sadly, only a very small part of the once stunningly beautiful Okinawa coral reefs now remain in good condition, and the few still remaining are threatened by dredging and land clearance to make a new US air force base.

The report claims that the coral being mined has an optimal ratio of two parts of calcium to one part of magnesium. I published the first measurements of seasonal variations of magnesium and strontium in coral skeletons, and assert that no coral skeleton has this ratio. Only around 1% of the coral skeleton is magnesium.  Higher "optimal" ratios are common in old limestone formations on land. Although corals themselves have very little magnesium, other marine organisms, especially sea urchins and coralline red algae make different mineral forms of limestone that may have up to 10 or 20 % magnesium.  If it is being called "coral" limestone this must be an inaccurate claim for publicity purposes. Any limestone with a 2:1 ratio of calcium to Magnesium is not coral skeleton; it is limestone from other organisms, or ancient rock formations that contain the mineral dolomite, a limestone with a 1:1 Magnesium to Calcium ratio mixed with calcium carbonate.  

The other day Discovery Channel had a special on pearls, and how in India the royalty would eat ground up pearls with honey. This was mainly to show how extravagant they could be, although it has a basis in Ayurvedic medicine. They also showed a clinic where a small child who had been unable to stand due to rickets, caused by calcium deficiency, could stand after a eating a lot of crushed pearls. Of course any form of calcium carbonate would do, and there is far more in limestone rocks than there is in living organisms, and due to the higher trace metal contents, the rocks are certainly better for you. But there is no end to fads and hucksters. 

"Corals can live up to a thousand years, and if you swallow our ground up coral pills, you can too!"  

Another life-enhancing, all-natural product from the same fine  folks who bring you turtle egg omelet, Rhinoceros horns, dried seahorses, bear's claws, and river dolphin's penises; and former purveyors of those discontinued classics: Passenger Pigeon Pie, Steller's sealion soup, Dodo stew, Giant tortoise on the half shell, Moa drumsticks , and Mammoth steak.  

Coming soon to a store near you:  "Be the ultimate survivor" Coelacanth liver extract. Itíll make you last a couple hundred million years!