Historically, Maui black coral was known for its medicinal properties in Hawaiian, Indonesian, and Chinese cultures. Today, however, the uses for Maui black coral are much more straightforward and simpler. You’ll often see Maui black coral gemstones for sale in bracelets, necklaces, and rings. The process of harvesting these beautiful coral gemstones for a unique Hawaiian gift is not straightforward, however. Let’s take a look back at the history of Maui black coral and how harvesters source it today as well as in the past.
What is Maui Black Coral?
Maui black coral is classified as an antipatharian, meaning it is a soft, deep-water coral found on continental slopes. Often, divers have to swim down to depths of at least 200 feet to harvest this coral, making it a very delicate and sometimes dangerous process.
The process of harvesting mature Maui black coral for jewelry is so exciting, a documentary premiering in 2016, called Black Coral, interviews past coral divers who collected it for 54 years, from 1958 to 2012. Released by The Brothers Winn, Brett, Todd, and Jett Winn, to be exact, this film tells of the harrowing, often exciting dives to depths most have never and will never go—sometimes up to 300 feet.
One of the interesting facts about Maui black coral is that because it is a deep-water coral, it does not require light to grow. Therefore it can and does flourish in the deep, dark depths of the world's oceans. Another interesting thing about black coral? Often, it isn't even really black. Most commonly, "black coral" varies in color from white, red, green, yellow, and brown.
In Hawaii, coral gemstone harvesters first discovered black coral in deep waters right off the coast of Lahaina, Maui, in 1958. Did you know that the black coral gemstone is the state gemstone of Hawaii? For a good reason! Not only is it rare and beautiful, once polished, it also makes a stunning keepsake and authentically Hawaiian gift.
The Official Gemstone of Hawaii
More than 15 of the world’s 150 species of black coral can be found in the waters around the Hawaiian Islands, making it a hot spot for Maui black coral divers.
Did you know that mature coral colonies can take up to 50 years to grow? With that in mind, coral gemstone harvesters have to be careful not to remove Maui black coral before it has had the chance to mature. As coral reefs are deteriorating and dying out each year, in part thanks to an increase in ocean temperatures and other environmental causes, this becomes even more critical.
Conservation Efforts for the Maui Black Coral Supply
Coral gemstones set in necklaces, bracelets, and rings can be a unique Hawaiian gift. Still, like anything sourced from the ocean, you want to be sure you buy from a reputable and trustworthy source who harvests it safely and with future coral colonies in mind. For instance, one way to make sure the coral gemstones you're buying are responsibly sourced is by making sure they come from fully matured Maui black coral colonies, not immature ones. By taking coral from juvenile colonies, it only aids in making Maui black coral more and more endangered.
Another threat to the very existence of black coral, and in return, coral gemstones in the world, is the invasion of a new, invasive species of coral called the snowflake coral. Large black coral colonies have been overtaken thanks to this snowflake coral in recent years.
No matter where you fall in the Maui black coral harvesting debate, we encourage you to check out the film Black Coral to immerse yourself in the rich history that took place right off the shores of the island we call home. Whether in the market for a black coral gemstone yourself or just a fan of ocean documentaries, we think there’s something for everyone! Did you know that Whaler’s Locker founder and owner, Bob Hartman used to dive for Maui black coral, too? If you’re local or in Maui on vacation, stop on by, we’re sure he’d love to tell you some of his fascinating diving stories while you’re taking a look around the shop!
Authentic Hawaiian Gifts for the Whole Family
Because we love the rich, authentically Hawaiian history of Maui black coral and coral gemstones, it should come as no surprise that our team curates a selection of products to be some of the most unique Hawaiian gifts you'll find. Whether you have a diver in the family, a hunter, a fisherman, or someone that loves the Hawaiian Islands, you’ll find the perfect Hawaiian gift to take home from Whaler’s Locker. After all, we’ve been proudly serving Lahaina for more than 50 years, so we’re confident that our team is knowledgeable about each piece, where it came from, and the history of any of the Hawaiian gifts we sell.
Shark Tooth Jewelry
If you’re looking for the most quintessential Hawaiian gift, look no further than shark tooth jewelry. Long thought of as a symbol of protection for Hawaiian fishermen and others that spent a lot of time on the sea, shark tooth necklaces are a truly unique piece of Hawaiian culture that you can take home with you from the islands.
If you’ve seen Disney’s Moana, you know how vital the fishhook was in Polynesian culture; however, that’s not the whole story. In Polynesian culture, carving and engraving were a way to pass along stories, traditions, and historical events. In Hawaii, the Maui hook necklace became a piece of contemporary jewelry thought to take on the wearer's spirit, and it became something they passed down from generation to generation.
One of the unique special collections that we offer here at Whaler's Locker is our scrimshaw pieces. If you’ve never seen scrimshaw in person, you’re missing out! One of the most incredible Hawaiian gifts you could give to anyone you know and love, authentically Hawaiian pieces feature breathtaking carvings of turtles, whales, lighthouses, and boats.
No matter what you’re in the market for, we have a vast array of uniquely Hawaiian gifts awaiting you both in our storefront in Lahaina and throughout our online store. Keep checking back with us, there’s always something new and exciting at Whaler’s Locker!