German man arraigned for smuggling coral
WASHINGTON (AFP) — A German man was arraigned Friday in a US district court in Alexandria, Virginia for having smuggled endangered coral into the United States, where he sold it, the Justice Department said.
A grand jury indicted Gunther Wenzek in July 2008 in Portland, Oregon, where he had smuggled the coral from reefs off the coast of the Philippines. He was arrested late Wednesday at the Dulles Airport outside of Washington while en route for a pet exhibition in Orlando, Florida.
Wenzek had been the subject of investigation since 2007, after he tried to ship a container full of fragments of endangered coral to Portland. Agents later seized two containers with a total of over 40 tons of coral he had shipped to a customer in the city.
“Protection of coral reefs continues to play an important role in the Department of Justice’s environmental enforcement efforts both domestically and internationally,” said John Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“Preventing the further decline of coral reefs is of paramount importance in preserving our marine environment and fisheries,” he added in a statement.
The coral fragments seized by the authorities were identified as stony corals protected by international law. The Department of Justice said Philippine law forbids exports of all coral.
“The removal of dead coral and live rock is of major concern for coral reefs, including those reefs protecting coastal communities from storms,” said Andrew Bruckner, a National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration biologist. “These corals are the fundamental building blocks of the coral reef ecosystem.”