Seventy-five percent of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by human activities, according to Reefs at Risk Revisited, a new global analysis led by Lauretta Burke of the World Resources Institute and more than 25 partner institutions including Conservation International (CI). Nearly a third of the world’s coral reefs have become more threatened since the original Reefs at Risk report was released more than 10 years ago. The new analysis incorporates knowledge about threats to corals reefs from climate change, in addition to documenting increasing impacts like those from overfishing and run-off.
It is troubling to me to see the drastic increase of the impacts on these extremely valuable resources over the last 10 years. This latest report is an urgent warning that we can lose many of the world’s coral reefs within our lifetimes, and highlights the critical linkage between healthy ecosystems and human well-being. Reefs at Risk Revisited highlights this linkage by documenting the degree to which coastal people depend on coral reef resources.
Coral reefs provide several critical benefits, known as ecosystem services, to more than 275 million people who live within 30 kilometers (18 miles) of a coral reef. These benefits range from protecting coastlines from storms and sustaining vital fisheries to bringing in millions of dollars a year from tourism. If coral reefs continue to decline, coastal communities could see major losses in their livelihoods, particularly in several countries where CI works, such as the Philippines, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji and Indonesia.
Many countries have made important steps in their efforts to protect coral reefs. For example, CI has worked with the government of Kiribati to create the world’s largest World Heritage Site, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. However, sustainable management of coral reefs remains a struggle because regulations are not always enforced. Reefs at Risk Revisited found that only 6 percent of the coral reefs currently protected in marine protected areas (MPAs) are considered to be effectively managed.
From my own research, I know that MPAs can help to stop coral decline and that the benefits of protection increase over time. Work from many other scientists also has shown that sustainable management of coral reefs can help ensure the continued delivery of ecosystem services that hundreds of millions of people rely on. We strongly encourage local and global policymakers to take these factors into consideration — and take action now to preserve coral reefs.
Elizabeth Selig is a biodiversity analyst in CI’s Science and Knowledge division.