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Corals

Coral was known and appreciated in ancient times. We find traces of it with the Sumerians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, and with the Celts too, who had a real passion for the "red gold". Fifteen centuries before Christ coral was already considered, on the asian markets, one of the most precious exchange products, in the place of coins.I was lucky enough to see some jewels made in China around 1200 / 1300, which I could buy and take to Italy. Well, these jewels were made of Mediterranean coral!

Until the first half of the 20th century the Mediterranean coral was harvested with the help of boats provided with a special tool, known as the "ingegno".

The question if coral was of mineral or vegetal nature remained unsolved. We have to wait until 1723, when doctor Andrea Peyssonel from Marseille, after the studies made by the neapolitan alchimist Filippo Finella puts end to this argument asserting that coral is an animal!

The ingegno was lowered from the boat (called- "corallina") and dragged along the ocean floor

The dark side of the medal is that the job of scuba diver is undoubtedly dangerous: the 15/20 minutes of harvesting on the sea floor mean 3 to 4 hours in the water for decompression's sake, that is to say 8 hours in the sea for half an hour harvesting.

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Coral was known and appreciated in ancient times. We find traces of it with the Sumerians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, and with the Celts too, who had a real passion for the "red gold". Fifteen centuries before Christ coral was already considered, on the asian markets, one of the most precious exchange products, in the place of coins.I was lucky enough to see some jewels made in China around 1200 / 1300, which I could buy and take to Italy. Well, these jewels were made of Mediterranean coral! Since the ancient times coral has been the object of arguments about its nature. The ancients thought it was vegetal, a sea plant, because of its tree-shape. The fact, though, that once extracted from the sea it would harden and petrify, and could be worked as a stone, let the alchimists state it was of mineral nature. Nor the legend about the coral origin helps us solve the question: the nymphs, amazed by the fact that the branches change into stone when in touch with the blood of the Medusa, enjoy dipping more branches in the blood and throwing them into the sea. We could go on and on with mythology, but whith no success. The question if coral was of mineral or vegetal nature remained unsolved. We have to wait until 1723, when doctor Andrea Peyssonel from Marseille, after the studies made by the neapolitan alchimist Filippo Finella puts end to this argument asserting that coral is an animal! Coral is in fact a colony of small coelenterata looking like little polyps, that with their calcium carbonate secretions form a solid structure in which they live and reproduce. From the scientific point of view coral belogs to the anthozoans (from the greek Antos Zeion: flower-shaped animal) and within this family to the octocorals(from the number of their entacles). Talking about coral we must pay attention not to mistake the corallium subgroup (that we work) for the corals forming the reefs of the pacific ocean atolls: these are corals, or better, esacorals, that we don't work, and that are used as home decorations. These are the famous madrepores in the beautiful colours (white, red, blue) that for sure many of you have in their sitting-rooms. Well, better to know that the harvesting of these madrepores is forbidden! Until the first half of the 20th century the Mediterranean coral was harvested with the help of boats provided with a special tool, known as the "ingegno". It is a special web of ropes attached to a wood cross. The ingegno was lowered from the boat (called "corallina") and dragged along the ocean floor. The boat movement helped tear the coral away from the rocks and bring it to the surface. Coral harvesting is no longer made in this way; it was replaced by the harvesting made by scuba divers, with great relief of those – we, coral craftsmen firstly - who have at heart that the natural sea environment remains intact and protected. Divers harvesting is definitely more selective: once the diver has spotted the rock where the coral is, he can harvest only the bigger branches, saving the smaller ones for the future.It would be useless to take the small ones too: they are only used in minimal quantities in the manufacturing. The dark side of the medal is that the job of scuba diver is undoubtedly dangerous: the 15/20 minutes of harvesting on the sea floor mean 3 to 4 hours in the water for decompression's sake, that is to say 8 hours in the sea for half an hour harvesting.Moreover, coral is beginning to lack in the areas wher it was traditionally present. A diver must reach a depth of 100 metres and more to obtain a decent harvest! How expensive is all this? Luckily enough for the divers, operators and coral craftsmen, excellent coral is presently being harvested in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, which are very rich areas, coralwise. This new coral is controlling the cost of the raw material, and is making a kind of "ecologic peace" where there had previously been a hyperexploitation of the sea resources. In Japan coral gives completely different problems. Firstly the harvesting is made in the ocean, where coral is deeper than in the Mediterranean. The Ocean waters are dangerous, deceiving, overwhelmed by typhoons at least twice a year.These waters must be sailed by strong ships, bigger than the "coralline": proper ocean ships, with which the Chinese and Japanese do the coral harvesting. Instead of the "ingegno" they use big round-shaped stones held by a rope, from which webs and laces hang. These webs, dragged on the ocean floor, tear away the coral branches. Presently, also in Japan this harvesting technique is being replaced by new techniques, with the use of submarines and robots, controlled from the surface. The use of such powerful – and expensive – instruments is justified by the fact that the japanese coral branches are much bigger (and therefore more valuable) than those in the Mediterranean.

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