Coral Reefs: Undersea Treasures Worth Protecting

Scuba divers.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Healthy coral reefs are beautiful, awe-inspiring ecosystems — owing to the enormously rich biological diversity found within and above them. These sublime environments attract human visitors like bees to honey.

Not surprisingly, reef-supported tourism alone generates an estimated $30 billion. However, the economic value derived from coral reefs goes far beyond tourism. Coral reefs annually provide an estimated $375 billion in economic and environmental services: they offer an abundant supply of seafood and protect the shoreline from waves, storms, and floods.

Coral reef and fish.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Priceless Resources in Peril

Unfortunately, a brief look at the news explains the grim story about coral reefs. Rapid warming, accelerating pollution, and destructive fishing practices are decimating coral reefs faster than they can adapt to survive.

Just as damaged and degraded coral reefs lose their appeal to divers and snorkelers, they also fail to provide the sustenance and coastal protection on which we depend. It’s clear that successful coral reef conservation efforts benefit us as well as the reefs.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program supports effective management and sound science to preserve, sustain and restore valuable coral reef ecosystems.

Saving the Reefs Starts with the Shore

Sediment runoff after Hurricane Katrina.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Sediment runoff and surges in algal cover caused by nutrient pollution from land are among the main causes of injury to coral reefs. Identifying and controlling pollution on land has direct benefits for coral reefs as well as water users within the region.

Fishing for Tomorrow

Overexploitation of key marine wildlife species, which are essential for balancing the ecosystem, is severely damaging coral reefs. Sharks and lobsters are prime examples. Some industrialized fishing techniques and certain types of gear also are causing major damage to coral structures.

Minimizing the destructive effects of overfishing, and achieving responsible, ecosystem-based stewardship of reef fisheries pays lasting dividends to healthy coral reefs and to those who make a living from the sea.

Coral reef and fish.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Building 'Bridges' to Help Corals Survive Climate Change

Corals face a major threat from climate change in the form of warmer and more acidic oceans, which cause mass bleaching and slow the growth of coral skeletons. Reducing greenhouse gases is essential to corals’ long-term survival. In the meantime, boosting the resilience of coral reef ecosystems and reducing local stresses are bridge solutions until the overarching climate threat is reduced.

Think Reef

Whether you live one mile or one thousand miles from a coral reef, your actions affect the reefs’ future — and the reefs’ future affects yours. There are a host of reef-conserving tips we can all make use of in our everyday lives that can also benefit for our own pocketbooks:

For a full list of “Things You Can Do” to help conserve coral reefs, visit the Coral Reef Conservation Program Web site. NOAA logo.