Ethnobiology of Corals and Coral Reefs

Part of the series Ethnobiology pp 87-102

Corals and Coralline Organisms in Seri Culture: Traditional and Modern Uses

  • Nemer E. NarchiAffiliated withCentro de Estudios en Geografía Humana, El Colegio de Michoacán
  • , Cathy Moser MarlettAffiliated withSIL International
  • , Hans BertschAffiliated withInstituto de Investigaciones Oceanologicas, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California

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The cultural importance that corals and coralline organisms have played in coastal societies worldwide is highlighted by the great diversity of direct and indirect uses given to these organisms. Among the most ubiquitous ethnobiological traits of corals and coralline organisms is their inclusion in local pharmacopoeias for at least 5000 years. In this chapter, we offer a condensed history of the use of black coral (genus Antipathes) in pharmacopoeias around the world to then center our discussion around the relevance of corals and rhodoliths in Seri culture. Seri ecological knowledge has undergone a process of erosion since the twentieth century. Nonetheless, a few people are still knowledgeable in the identification and use of medicinal organisms, some of which remain unreported, and understudied, as is the case of Seri knowledge of black coral. We show that corals have been used by the Seris as tools, ornaments, and medicine, for which we registered the uses, gathering techniques, and, regarding medicine, the posologies used for each organism. New systematic observation of traditional management and use of corals and coralline organisms should be beneficial for constructing models of conservation and sustainable exploitation of these fragile species.


Seri Sonora Black coral Rhodoliths Gulf of California Indigenous ecological knowledge Marine ethnomedicine