Coral reefs: importance

Fishers returning from the sea with their catch, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania. Coral reefs are ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
Fishers returning from the sea with their catch, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania. Coral reefs are important for fisheries and local communities around the world.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
Tropical coral reefs are very productive ecosystems. Not only are do they support enormous biodiversity, they are also of immense value to humankind.
Latest estimates suggest coral reefs provide close to US$30 billion each year in goods and services, including:
  • Fisheries: Coral reefs are vital to the world’s fisheries. They form the nurseries for about a quarter of the ocean's fish, and thus provide revenue for local communities as well as national and international fishing fleets. An estimated one billion people have some dependence on coral reefs for food and income from fishing. If properly managed, reefs can yield around 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood per square kilometre each year.

  • Tourism: Tourism revenues generated by coral reefs are also significant. For example, according to a report by the Key West chamber of commerce, tourists visiting the Florida Keys in the US generate at least US$3 billion dollars in annual income, while Australia’s Great Barrier Reef generates well over US$1 billion per year. Sustainably manged coral reef-based tourism can also provide significant alternative or additional sources of income to poorer coastal communities in developing countries.

  • Coastal protection: Coral reefs break the power of the waves during storms, hurricanes, typhoons, and even tsumanis. By helping to prevent coastal erosion, flooding, and loss of property on the shore, the reefs save billions of dollars each year in terms of reduced insurance and reconstruction costs and reduced need to build costly coastal defences - not to mention the reduced human cost of destruction and displacement.

  • Source of medical advances: We can also expect coral reef species to contribute to future medical advances. Already coral reef organisms are being used in treatments for diseases like cancer and HIV. Just as with tropical forests, we may continue to find the answers to medical problems in the coral reefs - so long as we can keep them healthy.

  • Intrinsic value: For many coastal societies around the world, coral reefs and their inhabitants are intricately woven into cultural tradtions. For these people - as well as for those who have floated with a mask and snorkel, immersed themselves in the three dimensional wonderland of a scuba dive, or experienced these habitats through media and books - a world without coral reefs would be an infinitely poorer place.

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