Protecting coral reefs

We work to protect the world’s coral reefs from the effects of climate change and other human activity.

Tropical coral reefs cover a mere 0.1 per cent of the ocean but are among the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet, supporting one quarter of all marine species. They occur in over 100 countries, including more than 80 developing countries, and sustain human society through a range of ecosystem services, such as livelihoods and food security from fisheries, revenue from tourism, erosion prevention and protection from extreme weather events through dissipation of wave energy and lessening inundation and damage during storms.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study found that coral reefs generate up to $1.25 million per hectare from tourism, coastal protection, medical use and fisheries annually. Approximately 850 million people live within 100 km of and derive some benefits from coral reefs, with at least 275 million depending directly on reefs for livelihoods and sustenance. Reef-dependence, and consequently vulnerability to reef loss, is particularly high in small island states, in many countries in the coral triangle, and in coastal populations in developing countries.

Despite their importance, however, coral reefs are rapidly degrading. Overfishing, destructive fishing, unsustainable coastal development, nutrient and sediment loading, a range of land-based activities, warming temperatures due to climate change and ocean acidification are all placing extremely high pressure on the world’s coral reefs, and action is needed now if we are to adequately protect them. In fact, in the last 30 years we have lost between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of the world’s live coral, and it is predicted that by mid-century we could lose functional coral reef ecosystems across most of the world.

UN Environment is contributing to reversing this trend by promoting international cooperation on the issue. To this end, we work with a wide variety of stakeholders, including the International Coral Reef Initiative, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the Regional Seas Programmes, and also support ongoing projects that help protect our coral reefs.

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