Confiscated six giant clam shells
Image: DOC | ©

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


Two travellers returning to New Zealand from tropical getaways have been fined for failing to declare protected corals and shells they brought back into the country.

Date:  04 July 2022

Corals and some shells found in Pacific Island nations are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and DOC’s Team Lead Border Operations Clinton Turner says the two recent cases reinforce the need for New Zealanders to be aware of the rules about bringing wildlife items into the country – particularly during the winter season when many families take holidays to warmer locations

In the first case, a traveller returning from the Cook Islands in late May failed to declare six giant clam shells they intended to use as bathroom ornaments. The shells of the species Tridacna maxima (also known as the Maxima or small giant clam) had been picked up from the beach and are threatened by international trade.  

In the second case, a traveller returning to New Zealand from Fiji in early June failed to declare several pieces of stony coral which were intended as ornaments for a fish tank. All stony corals are protected by CITES, regardless of where they were found or sourced from.

In both cases the passengers initially declared some items to border officials, but an x-ray of their baggage revealed further undeclared specimens.

The travellers were both fined $600 under the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 for importing the items without the required CITES permits.

“In both these cases, the travellers did not fully declare they had these protected items. Declarations are a fundamental and familiar aspect of international travel,” Clinton Turner says.  

“We understand people want to bring home trinkets and tokens of their holidays, but if those items are wildlife, they need to check the rules first. They also need to know the contents of their luggage and be honest with border officials about what they are bringing in.”

Wildlife protected by CITES generally needs permits to legally bring it into the country. Information on CITES – including what permits are needed and how to apply – is freely available on the DOC website.

CITES permits and information.

“We want to emphasise to all New Zealanders with international travel plans to please check the rules around importing wildlife items. Knowing the rules, getting the right permits and being honest at the border is a far better option than being embarrassed and given a fine when you return from your overseas break.”

Background information

CITES regulates and monitors international trade in endangered animal and plant species to ensure it does not threaten their long-term survival in the wild.

More than 38,000 species are covered by CITES, with trade in these managed through a system of permits and certificates. Items containing CITES species are likely to need CITES documentation to be able to travel between countries.

Travellers are encouraged to check the DOC website for CITES rules ahead of time to make sure they won’t get delayed at the border or have goods seized.


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