Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

The Worldwide Threat to Coral Reefs and Why It Should Matter to Everyone

Coral reefs, one of nature's most beautiful and fragile creations, are living ecosystems that provide incredible wealth to the environment and humankind alike. According to the WWF, the global conservation organization, coral reef systems are a global asset worth nearly $800 billion, and provide nearly $30 billion in goods and services worldwide each year.

coral reef

The coral reef systems provide nearly $30 billion in goods and services worldwide each year, and provide nurseries for one-quarter of the planet's fish.

However, an astonishing 60 percent of coral reefs across the globe have been permanently destroyed or are at risk of being destroyed in the next three decades, a report funded by WWF found. The potential economic and environmental impact of such a great loss has environmental groups calling for urgent coral reef conservation measures.

"Good reef management certainly has its price but the loss will be much higher if governments fail to realize both the economic and ecological benefits of these ecosystems, and drag their feet over protecting them," said Dr. Simon Cripps, director of WWF's Endangered Seas Program.

Why Coral Reefs are a Priceless Resource

Like the oceans themselves, coral reefs support and house countless species of fish and plant life that, should the reefs be further depleted, could ultimately be lost. Every year, coral reefs, which provide nurseries for one-quarter of the fish in the oceans, supply about 15 tons of fish and other seafood per square kilometer. According to WWF, about 1 billion people depend on this food source or make their livelihood from fishing near the reefs.

Meanwhile, coral reefs provide a natural barrier during storms, hurricanes and tsunamis, serving to break incoming waves and help prevent coastal erosion, flooding and loss of property and human life near the shore. Hidden inside these natural barriers are also numerous organisms that are being studied for medical use, some even showing promise of treating diseases like cancer and HIV.

But the wealth of the planet's coral reefs do not end there. The beauty of these underwater ecosystems attracts tourists, scuba divers and snorkelers who are eager to catch a glimpse of this intriguing underwater world. Revenues from this tourism add up to billions of dollars each year, and provide the potential for additional income to those living in poor coastal towns in developing countries.

Five Major Threats to Coral Reefs

Coral reefs take hundreds to thousands of years to form, yet are under attack from numerous angles that threaten to destroy them almost instantly. According to WWF, these include:

coral reefs swimming

You can help protect coral reefs by not touching coral while swimming or diving, and not purchasing coral jewelry or souvenirs.

  • Destructive fishing practices: Several fishing methods, including blast or dynamite fishing, bottom-trawling, and muro-ami (banging on the reef with sticks) easily destroy reefs. Another method, cyanide fishing, involves releasing cyanide into the water to stun tropical fish for collection (to be sold for fish tanks). The cyanide kills the reef and many other marine species.

  • Tourism: While "sustainable tourism" is indeed beneficial to the areas surrounding coral reefs, careless tourism is a great threat. This includes boating near coral reefs (and dropping anchors on them), touching the reefs, collecting coral or breaking it, stirring up too much sediment, and releasing waste into the water.

  • Pollution: Sewage, chemicals used in agriculture, oil, and other industrial waste are slowly causing the reefs to die. Some of these pollutants are released directly into the oceans while others are carried in from rivers.

  • Coral Mining and Industry: Coral is often taken from coral reefs to be used in construction materials or sold as souvenirs. Meanwhile, construction, mining, logging and farming has increased sediment in rivers. When this sediment travels to the oceans, it can cover the reefs and kill them by depriving them of sunlight.

  • Global Warming: Increasing water temperatures lead to coral bleaching and are threatening entire coral reefs.

How You Can Help Protect the Reefs

If you'd like to help ensure that the coral reefs continue to thrive and contribute to the environment and the economy, check out these reef-friendly tips:

  • If you snorkel or dive, don't touch the coral (or drag your equipment on it). Also try to keep off of the bottom (this stirs up sediment that can smother the coral).

  • Avoid boating in shallow waters near reefs, and only drop anchor in sandy areas away from reefs.

  • Don't litter but do pick up any trash you see along the coasts or beaches.

  • Don't buy coral jewelry or other coral souvenirs.

  • If you have a fish tank, don't use live coral in it, and only purchase tropical fish that you know are collected without cyanide and in a sustainable, humane way.

  • If you eat seafood, look for seafood products that have a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label. MSC is a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying sustainable fisheries. If you can't find them, ask your local grocer to carry them.

Recommended Reading

Before You Swim This Summer, You Should Know What Is Lurking at Your Beach

Rip Currents & Other Hidden Hazards Everyone Who Swims and Plays in Oceans or Lakes Needs to Know


World Wildlife Federation

National Parks Conservation Association

The Economics of Worldwide Coral Reef Degradation

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This