The Red Coral Capital is Struggling with a Warming Sea. In the shadow of Vesuvius, between the archaeological wonders of Pompeii and Ercolano, the port town of Torre del Greco has preserved its own age-old heritage: a unique artistry with red coral from the Mediterranean Sea. However, the niche jewellery industry is now surviving on a fraction of the Red Coral Capital harvests of the past, as strict limits have been imposed to protect diminishing marine colonies from environmental hazards and to aid in their recovery from decades of exploitation.

“We support these restrictions because if coral disappears, we’re all going out of business,” said Vincenzo Aucella, owner of Aucella Gioielli, a family business founded in 1930 that specialises in coral jewellery and cameos, the city’s other specialty. He is also the president of Assocoral, a local and national organisation that represents 70 of the city’s coral businesses. “We must protect the coral, as well as the economic fabric of Torre del Greco.” Glass cases held rows of stands displaying twisted collars of coral beads and claret-colored branches strung together in necklaces behind him.

Fishermen dredged the Mediterranean seabed indiscriminately, gathering marine life into massive nets, from the ancient era until a ban in the 1980s. Toward the end of the period, remotely operated vehicles dove down to previously unreachable depths of up to 330 feet to strip coral colonies.

The region’s red coral harvest peaked at nearly 100 million tonnes in 1978 before rapidly declining. International fishing treaties for the Mediterranean drafted by the United Nations’ General Fisheries Commission now require all countries bordering the sea to meet the same mandates, significantly reducing hauls. Only nine tonnes of Red Coral Capital were collected in 2018. However, experts say that populations are still struggling to recover.

The smaller harvests are “due to all the restrictions,” said Gioia De Simone, sixth-generation owner of Antonino De Simone, one of Torre del Greco’s main coral dealerships. “Unlike diamonds, it is a renewable resource.”

However, the scientific community has discovered that coral populations in shallow water, from the surface to a depth of 160 feet, have nearly vanished, and populations in deeper water are drastically reduced in comparison to previous decades, according to the United Nations.