The decline and loss of coral reefs has significant social, cultural, economic, and ecological impacts on people and communities in the U.S. and around the world. However, with effective leadership and management, healthy, resilient reef ecosystems can continue to provide these valuable services to current and future generations.
Healthy coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on Earth.
NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) was established in 2000 to protect, conserve, and restore coral reef resources by maintaining healthy ecosystem function. CRCP recently released its FY 2010-2015 Goals and Objectives and International Coral Reef Conservation Strategy. The program is narrowing the focus of its U.S. domestic activities and shifting resources to action on the ground and in the water.
The Coral Reef Conservation Program is also expanding its international presence through more active involvement in coral conservation efforts, primarily in the Pacific, Coral Triangle region, and Caribbean. There is a focus on these regions because they are connected with U.S. coral reef ecosystems.
Coral reefs provide hundreds of billions of dollars in food, jobs, recreational opportunities, coastal protection, and other important services.
Efforts will concentrate on understanding and addressing the top three recognized global threats to coral reef ecosystems, including impacts from climate change, fishing, and land-based sources of pollution. These three threats are decimating corals faster than they can adapt for survival. Individually, each of these threats is devastating to corals, but collectively, they compound and cause far more damage, as well as make coral reefs more susceptible to further degradation from other threats.
Climate change impacts threaten coral reef ecosystems through increased mass coral bleaching and disease, ocean acidification, sea level rise, and storm activity.
Fishing impacts in coral reef areas, when ecologically unsustainable, can lead to the depletion of key functional groups of reef species in many locations and this can result in additional impacts on coral reef habitats.
Land-based sources of pollution can include agriculture, coastal development, road construction, and oil and chemical spills. Impacts from these sources may be increased sediments in the water, nutrient pollution, toxins, and pathogen introduction. These pollutants can cause many problems such as disease and mortality in sensitive species or decreases in growth and reproduction.
These threats are compounded by the increase in global population and demographic shifts toward coastal regions.