Poached Coral Brought To So. Fla. For Research

Coral Cut From Reefs In South Pacific

Published On: Oct 12 2011 04:04:35 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 16 2011 07:14:45 AM EDT

Students and scientists at Nova Southeastern University have received pallets of decades old, pristine coral for research.

United States Fish and Wildlife agents said the sculptural, nature-made creations were poached illegally in the Pacific to be sold on the black market in Florida for home decor.

The coral was cut from reefs off the Solomon Islands and then shipped thousands of miles away to the Port of Tampa, agents said.

In Tampa, agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized the pallets after realizing the shipment violated the Endangered Species Act, as well as other laws that protect threatened wildlife.

Last month, the coral was donated to Nova's Oceanographic center in Dania Beach.

The pacific coral is estimated to be worth up to $1 million dollars.

This acquisition for Nova Southeastern University is bittersweet. Scientists, like professor Charles Messing, believe coral should never be cut from reefs, which are vital to an ocean's ecosystem.

"The harvesting of them has become so overblown that it's destroying reefs left, right, and center," Messing said.

On Monday, some of the pieces of exotic coral sat under tables and on shelves, where they'll soon become learning tools.

Messing said it's a better second life than home decor.

"They're gorgeous. Lovely sitting on the shelf and that sort of thing. But the devastation that's wrought in their collection is unconscionable," he said.