Coral reefs

Coral reefs are the most diverse of all marine ecosystems. They teem with life, with perhaps one quarter of all ocean species depending on reefs for food and shelter. This is a remarkable statistic when you consider that reefs cover just a tiny fraction (less than one percent) of the earth’s surface and less than two percent of the ocean bottom. Because they are so diverse, coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the sea. Coral reefs are also very important to people. The value of coral reefs has been estimated at $30 billion and perhaps as much as $172 billion each year, providing food, protection of shorelines, jobs based on tourism, and even medicines. Unfortunately, people also pose the greatest threat to coral reefs. Overfishing and destructive fishing, pollution, warming, changing ocean chemistry, and invasive species are all taking a huge toll. In some places, reefs have been entirely destroyed, and in many places reefs today are a pale shadow of what they once were. link     See also Oceans page



  • General information
  • Disappearing corals
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • Sunscreen threat
 General information

Why coral reefs are important. Beyond their intrinsic value and their role as a breeding ground for many of the ocean’s fish and other species, coral reefs provide human societies with resources and services worth many billions of dollars each year. Millions of people and thousands of communities all over the world depend on coral reefs for food, protection, and jobs. These numbers are especially staggering considering that coral reefs cover less than one percent of the Earth’s surface. The coral reef structure also buffers shorelines against waves,
storms, and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion. Several million people live in U.S. coastal areas adjacent to or near coral reefs, and the well-being of their communities and economies is directly dependent on the health of nearby coral reefs. Finally, coral reefs are sometimes called the “medicine cabinets” of the 21st century. Coral reef plants and animals are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases. link

June 2018: Coral reefs can help us endure climate change. Coral reefs serve as an effective first line of defense to incoming waves, storms and rising seas, and can reduce a wave’s energy by up to 97%. Without such a buffer, coastal residents must face the full brunt of rising seas and stronger storm surges driven by climate change. Preserving coral reefs is 15 times cheaper than trying to mimic them with concrete to protect shorelines, and could potentially could save countries around the world $4 billion annually in flood protections. link

June 2018: Coral reef conservation efforts will get a major boost with global monitoring system. The satellite-based system will launch at five pilot sites this fall, before rolling out globally in 2020. It will detect physical changes in coral cover at high resolution on a daily basis, enabling researchers, policy makers, and environmentalists to track severe bleaching events, reef dynamiting, and coastal development in near-real time. link

February 2018: Radical interventions needed to save coral reefs from destruction. NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch called the situation dire; some scientists estimates suggest that 90% of the world’s corals will be dead 2050. Proposals being suggested by scientists range from genetic modification of corals to geoengineering the atmosphere in an effort to cool the reefs. link

February 2017: Group forms to save coral reefs from warming oceans. With 90% of coral reefs at risk of dying by century’s end, a group of philanthropies and conservationists say they have a plan to ensure the survival of at least some of them. The 50 Reefs project, which is being funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, was announced at a conference in Bali, just as the Australian government confirmed reports that the Great Barrier Reef may be experiencing its fourth consecutive year of extensive coral bleaching. link

April 2016: Dead coral reefs could mark beginning of ‘dangerous’ climate change. Abnormally warm water temperatures around the island of Kiritimati in the Pacific Ocean, more than a thousand miles south of Hawaii, have plagued the region for months causing widespread coral bleaching, disease and even some coral death as a result. A recent expedition has revealed that the reefs around Kiritimati have suffered a catastrophic mass die-off, an event that epitomizes what may be an ugly truth about the ability of coral reefs around the world to adapt to the growing threat of climate change. The team estimates that about 80% of all the coral around the island are now dead. In a matter of months what was one of the healthiest reefs in the world could just be dramatically transformed into a graveyard. link

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) is the only international organization 
working exclusively to save coral reefslink

September 2015: World’s reef system could soon succumb to climate change. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 850 million people depend directly on coral reefs for their food security – a mass die-off could trigger conflict and human migration on a massive scale. Coral reef cover has declined by 50% in the last 30 years and reefs could disappear by as early as 2050, the report says, if current rates of ocean warming and acidification continue. link

Renowned naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, joined scientists to warn that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already above the level which condemns coral reefs to extinction in the future, with catastrophic effects for the oceans and the people who depend upon them. “A coral reef is the canary in the cage as far as the oceans are concerned,” said Attenborough. Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life all including more than 4,000 species of fish. They also provide spawning, nursery, refuge and feeding areas for creatures such as lobsters, crabs, starfish and sea turtles. This makes them crucial in supporting a healthy marine ecosystem upon which more than 1bn people depend for food.  link            
Coral reefs disappearing

May 2017: Scientists warn US coral reefs on course to disappear within decades – link

January 2017: Coral bleaching kills 70% of Japan’s biggest coral reef. Coral bleaching has killed 70.1% of the nation’s largest coral reef as of the end of 2016, up from 56.7% just a few months earlier, the Environment Ministry said. Warmer seawater temperatures are believed to have caused coral bleaching to spread to 90% of the Sekiseishoko coral reef in Okinawa Prefecture. link   May 2018: Only 1% of Japan’s biggest coral reef is healthy. The overall volume of coral in Sekisei Lagoon near Okinawa had plunged by 80% since the late 1980s due to rising water temperatures and damage caused by coral-eating starfish. Now only 1.4% of the lagoon is considered healthy. link

August 2013: Caribbean has lost 80% of its coral reef cover in recent years. A major survey of the coral reefs of the Caribbean is expected to reveal the extent to which one of the world’s biggest and most important reserves of coral has been degraded by climate change, pollution, overfishing and degradation. As much as 80% of Caribbean coral is reckoned to have been lost in recent years. Loss of reefs is also a serious economic problem in the Caribbean, where large populations depend on fishing and tourism. link
September 2012: Caribbean coral reefs are on the verge of collapselink

October 2010: Scientists say Asia’s corals dying en masse – link

April 2012: Corals could survive a more acidic ocean. Corals may be better placed to cope with the gradual acidification of the world’s oceans than previously thought. An international scientific team has identified a powerful internal mechanism that could enable some corals and their symbiotic algae to counter the adverse impact of a more acidic ocean. Groundbreaking research has shown that some marine organisms that form calcium carbonate skeletons have an in-built mechanism to cope with ocean acidification which others appear to lack. link

October 2009: ‘Freezer plan’ bid to save coral. The prospects of saving the world’s coral reefs now appear so bleak that plans are being made to freeze samples to preserve them for the future. A meeting in Denmark took evidence from researchers that most coral reefs will not survive even if tough regulations on greenhouse gases are put in place. Scientists proposed storing samples of coral species in liquid nitrogen. That will allow them to be reintroduced to the seas in the future if global temperatures can be stabilised. Legislators from 16 major economies have been meeting in Copenhagen to try to agree the way forward on climate change. link

May 2009: Coral triangle disappearing fast. The world’s most important coral region is in danger of being wiped out by the end of this century unless fast action is taken, according to a new report by WWF (World Wildlife Fund) which warns that 40% of reefs in the Coral Triangle have already been lost. The area is shared between Indonesia and five other South East Asian nations and is thought to contain 75% of the world’s coral species. The Coral Triangle covers 1% of the earth’s surface but contains a third of all the world’s coral, and three-quarters of its coral reef species. link

The Great Barrier Reef

October 2016: The Great Barrier Reef is very sick. The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living structure, is seriously injured and slowly dying, according to Climate Council, an advocacy organization. In a video, Climate Council said the reef is still damaged months after record high ocean temperatures caused a bleaching event that affected some 93% of the reef. link

How global warming sealed the fate of the world’s coral reefs. September 2009: A report from the Australian government agency that looks after the nation’s Great Barrier Reef reported that “the overall outlook for the reef is poor and catastrophic damage to the ecosystem may not be averted”. The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble, and it is not the only one. The tropical coral reef looks like it will enter the history books as the first major ecosystem wiped out by our love of cheap energy. Within just a few decades, experts are warning, the tropical reefs strung around the middle of our planet like a jewelled corset will reduce to rubble. Giant piles of slime-covered rubbish will litter the sea bed and spell in large distressing letters for the rest of foreseeable time: ‘Humans Were Here’.

The future is horrific,” says Charlie Veron, an Australian marine biologist who is widely regarded as the world’s foremost expert on coral reefs. “There is no hope of reefs surviving to even mid-century in any form that we now recognise. If, and when, they go, they will take with them about one-third of the world’s marine biodiversity. Then there is a domino effect, as reefs fail so will other ecosystems. This is the path of a mass extinction event, when most life, especially tropical marine life, goes extinct.” link

April 2016: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: 93% of reefs hit by bleaching. Almost 93% of reefs have been hit by coral bleaching, according to a comprehensive survey revealing the full extent of the devastation caused by abnormally warm ocean temperatures sweeping the globe. There have only been three mass bleaching events recorded on the reef, and all of them have happened since 1998. Scientists say this episode is the worst they’ve ever seen. link

October 2012: Great Barrier Reef loses more than 50% of its coral cover. link

See connection on Australia page

Sunscreen threat to coral reefs.

April 2017: Sunscreen may be destroying coral reefs. Biologists say oxybenzone, the UV-absorbing chemical found to poison coral, contributes to bleaching, and has a similar effect on DNA to gasoline, disrupting reproduction and growth, leaving young corals fatally deformed. Though some manufacturers have started to produce sunscreens marketed as “reef friendly”, there is little to no regulation over such claims and consumers should check ingredients. Scientists also warn against using aerosol cans of sunscreen, because the spray mostly falls on to sand, where it gets washed into the sea or into sea turtle nests. link

May 2008: According to estimates, 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes of sunscreen are released in tropical reef areas every year by about 78 million tourists visiting those reefs. Researchers warn that up to 10% of the world’s coral reefs might be at risk. The researchers from Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy, have found evidence that sunscreens are to blame for coral bleaching. This loss of colour in the corals through the stress-induced release of symbiotic unicellular algae has negative impacts on biodiversity and functioning of reef ecosystems.
Sierra Club notes five selections to protect the oceans:  link
How a common chemical (oxybenzone) is damaging coral reefs – link
Cousteau Foundation names its ideal sunscreen to protect coral reefs from damage.

March 2017:  “A Voice for the Planet” video. Species extinction is decimating plant and animal life on earth. This is a serious issue propagated by climate change, pollution and ocean acidification which impacts our environment all areas of our planet. We must take steps to turn this around before we are on the endangers species list – view