Did you know that, per unit area, coral reefs support more species than any other marine environment? Reefs also rival rainforests in the amount of biodiversity they support. Thousands of creatures rely on coral reefs for their survival. Hidden beneath the ocean waters, reefs are also some of the oldest ecosystems on the planet, reflecting thousands of years of history. Although individual coral polyps are tiny, they create the largest living structures on earth—some reefs are visible from space!
Did you know that approximately 500 million people worldwide depend upon reefs? In fact, 30 million are virtually totally dependent upon reefs. Coral ecosystems are a source of food for millions; protect coastlines from storms and erosion; provide habitat, spawning and nursery grounds for economically important fish species; provide jobs and income to local economies from fishing, recreation, and tourism; are a source of new medicines, and are hotspots of marine biodiversity. These values contribute approximately $29.8 billion to world economies each year. Continued decline of reefs will have alarming consequences for people worldwide.
An estimated 20 percent of the world’s reefs are damaged beyond recovery and about half of the remaining coral reefs are under risk of collapse. The top threats to coral reefs—climate change, unsustainable fishing, and land-based pollution—are all due to human activities.
These threats—combined with other threats like coral disease; tropical storms; tourism and recreation; vessel damage; marine debris, and aquatic invasive species—compound upon each other, sometimes making conservation efforts more difficult.
Through the activities of the Coral Reef Conservation Program, NOAA is doing its part to address key threats to reefs. In order to manage and protect coral reef ecosystems, NOAA conducts research, coral mapping and monitoring activities, and uses a variety of coral conservation tools.
This program also serves as the Secretariat for the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, a body of twelve federal agencies and seven states and territories that are responsible for preserving and protecting reefs around the country. Both of these groups also work to protect international reefs since reef ecosystems are not limited by international boundaries.
Even if you don’t live near a coral reef, you can still have an impact on them. Awareness is a big step towards changing behaviors that threaten reefs, and ensuring your impact on reefs is a positive one. Therefore, we all need to be aware of the importance of, and threats to, coral reefs. Visit NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program Web site to learn about some of the actions—both little and big—that you can take to help conserve coral reefs. You will find that even small changes in your daily routine can make a difference.