Caribbean Sea Whip

Recently, Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae has been increasingly harvested for its use in popular beauty products. This Caribbean soft coral is located in a very rich environment. Its harvesting is giving new insight into how harvesting will affect the productivity and sustainability of these practices (Goldbaum 2003). 

For example, marine biologists are trying to better understand the processes of coral larvae floating in the ocean before settling and growing on a reef (Goldbaum 2003).


The Caribbean Sea Whip reproduce by releasing eggs that require fertilization before they can develop (Lasker 2006) . Before fertilization, the eggs exist on the surface of the colony (Lasker 2006). A study was done to discover important factors to increase productivity of coral in order to counter possible decline due to harvesting (Lasker 2006). Of course, marine invertebrates commonly have complicated life cycles and such stage presents different factors of mortality (Lasker 2006). It was discovered by this study that “surface brooding may provide a mechanism by which individuals can achieve high fertilization rates at low sperm densities and, thereby, avoid both sperm limitations and ployspermy” (Lasker 2006). Currently, it is not known how long the eggs and sperm of Pseudopterogorgia elsabethae remain active (Lasker 2006). Clearly, this is an important field of study for those interested in harvesting the anti-inflammatory qualities of the coral.


The West Indian gorgonian octocoral Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae is a very rich source of diterpene glycoside – which is a natural product utilized for its anti-inflammatory and wound-healing abilities (Rodriguez & Rodriguez &  Zhao 2009). “The pseudopterosins are of considerable interest given their commercial market as additives in skin cream products and the successful completion of clinical trials as topical anti-inflammatory agents” (Rodriguez & Rodriguez &  Zhao 2009). This discovery has increased the desire to harvest the coral, which also brings in ecological issues of how to present over-harvesting.

Risk of Over-Harvesting?

Marine invertebrates are harvested at the risk of environmental damage (Santiago-Vazquez & Ranzer & Kerr 2006). The Caribbean gorgonian  Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae  is one that promises a pharmacological use now and into the future, but we have to be careful about what extraction protocols are used in regards to the coral and its symbiont Symbioginium sp (Santiago-Vazquez & Ranzer & Kerr 2006).  One of the current harvesting procedures is to clip branches from colonies and then allow them to grow for two or three years before they are harvested again (Castanaro & Lasker 2003).

A study done by John Castanaro and Howard R. Lasker concentrates on subjecting Pseudopterogogia elizabethae to partial mortality in order to study “how colony growth responses to disturbances such as harvesting, grazing, and storm damage” (Castanaro & Lasker 2003). They found that the branching patterns of these corals  At multiple sites in the Bahamas, these colonies vary wildly… “this suggests that the individual colony history of the P. eslisabethae may be extremely important, and in many cases those patterns overwhelm clipping effects” which seems to indicate that the harvesting patterns are generally sustainable as they are now. The experiment also concluded that differences in the level of cropping did not really have an affect on colony regrowth, but that the experiment also did not “follow sufficient numbers of colonies to determine if the severity of clipping affected survival of the colonies” (Castanaro & Lasker 2003).

For More Information On Coral Reef Sustainability Please Visit:

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program

Global Warming and Coral Reefs

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