Uncle Bill Installment #16

Photo by Bill Scales.


I don’t know what my uncle’s relationship was with black coral – or if he even had one. I don’t know much about my uncle’s relationships with other-than-sea-creatures either. I can only speculate.


Corals are composed of polyps, each having a ring of tractable tentacles surrounding a mouth. Similar to trees, coral form growth rings which can be used to determine their age. Black corals are among the longest lived creatures on earth.


My photo. February, 2024, San Salvador Island, Bahamas.


Uncle Bill had a lazy eye and what has been described as “coke bottle” glasses. I wonder how he handled diving with such poor eyesight? Were prescription dive goggles a thing then? Photo: Bill Scales. Circa 1957, San Salvador Island, Bahamas.


My suspicion that Bill was diving for black coral and selling it on the black [coral] market inspired me to do some research regarding black coral and coral in general. He had sold fish he’d caught while diving. Why not coral? It would’ve made him a lot more money than simply selling fish to the kitchen.


The book CORAL LIVES (Michelle Curry Navakas, 2023 Princeton University Press) led me down a path to understanding coral’s symbolism. “One of the most popular political analogies that coral inspired during the 19th century involved the comparison of human society to a coral reef. The analogy usually suggested the power of collective labor for common good.” The book focuses on the similarities between slave labor and the work coral polyps perform.


LIFE ON THE ROCKS (Juli Berwald, Penguin Random House 2023) reflects on the status of corals today and the ways researchers are attempting to preserve coral reefs.


From CORAL REEF IDENTIFICATION by Paul Humann : “Black corals are generally thought to be deep dwellers, but about half of the approximately 30 species in the Caribbean area can be found within safe diving depths and several grow in surprisingly shallow water.”


In the 1950’s, coral populations began to become noticeably depleted. This is mostly due to climate change, pollution, rising sea temperatures and illegal fishing practices. “Blast fishing” is when a bomb is dropped on a coral reef. It is an effective way to kill fish fast. Though blast fishing is now illegal, the effects of previous bombing on coral reefs have been felt for decades.


The use of coral in jewelry is responsible for reef losses as well. In jewelry making, the hard base of black coral is sliced and polished and used like a stone. I watched a Youtube video showing how to create jewelry from the wet black coral branches. The branches can be bent and persuaded into shapes that harden when dry. What about the earrings and necklace Bill had given to his mother? The black coral and silver pieces I ended up with? I assume he purchased the set, legally, in Nassau. It’s almost like a message from beyond that they arrived with such timing.


My photo. San Salvador Island, Bahamas, 2024.


Photo: Bill Scales. Circa 1957. San Salvador Island, Bahamas.


All that said [and read], in the year 1958… where would Bill have sold Black Coral? Where would the market have been? Nassau? Could his fish-buyer have had a contact?



French Angel Fish with coral. Photo: Bill Scales circa 1957. (Tinted by me.) They’re probably saying, “Suis-moi, mon amour.” Beckoning to the Club Med crowd.


Conservation.org, reveals black corals actually produce bioactive compounds that could potentially be used to fight diseases. In fact, remedies made out of black coral have been used in many cultures throughout China, Hawai‘i and Greece for centuries. Recent studies have found that many black corals harbor compounds that could help us find clues to fight cancer and other diseases.


Black coral is inserting itself in fashion. Not in actual coral form, but as design inspiration.


For only r222,000 you could own this black coral inspired top with asymmetric skirt. I could totally rock that. Not like Shruti Haasan does. But  in my own way.

I found an article about DNA possibly being a link to coral’s resilience in surviving a bleaching event.


DNA … the key to unlocking countless mysteries.



Back to Installment # 15.

You can keep track of updates and photos, beyond what I post on my site, on my Whatsapp channel “Outermost Uncle“.

One Response

  1. Amazing Marcy! Learnt alot in such a short piece on Black Coral. You expressed the different values of Black Coral intelligently wow! Even a possible cancer fighting agent one day. Yep DNA is a key factor in a great deal of unanswered questions!!!

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