Coral Reefs Protect Coastlines

Coastline.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

While coral reefs harbor as much diversity of life as a rainforest, they also protect shorelines from currents, waves, and storms.

Healthy reefs have rough surfaces and complex structures that slow incoming waves — dissipating much of the force. Up to 90 percent of the energy from wind-generated waves is absorbed by reefs, based on the physical and ecological characteristics of the reef and the abundance of the adjacent seagrass and mangrove ecosystems.  

Preserving a Valuable Resource

Coastal storms account for 71 percent of recent U.S. disaster losses annually. Each event costs roughly $500 million, and while not all of these events occur in areas that would naturally contain reefs, healthy reefs could reduce the cost in those regions that do. In fact, each meter of reef protects an estimated $47,000 of property value. In Florida alone, the absence of coral reefs would cause parts of the state to be submerged.

Losing the natural reef barrier would have significant physical and economic effects on our coastal communities as well as the 12 million Americans who live in coastal areas near coral reefs. Therefore, the health of sensitive coral reef ecosystems depends partly on sustainable coastal development practices along the very same coastlines the reefs themselves protect.

Healthy reefs.

Healthy reefs, such as this elkhorn coral patch reef, protect shorelines from currents, wave activity, and storms.

High resolution (Credit:NOAA)

NOAA’s Role

"NOAA plays a key role in promoting resilient coral reefs and coastal communities," says Tim Keeney, NOAA deputy assistant secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. "The Coral Reef Conservation Program, with its many partners, supports developing holistic conservation strategies based on a strong understanding of the goods and services these ecosystems provide."

NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program is working to reduce these threats. From mapping and monitoring to managing reef resources and removing harmful debris, the CRCP brings together expertise from NOAA's line offices for a multidisciplinary approach to managing and understanding coral reef ecosystems. As part of this effort, the CRCP offers a variety of products and services, including:

You Can Help

Coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves are some of the most valuable ecosystems known to man and they need protection. International Year of the Reef 2008 was designated to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and threats to their sustainability. While IYOR 2008 is drawing to a close, there are still many things you can do to help protect corals. To learn more, visit the Coral Reef Conservation Program Web site. NOAA logo.