Coral reefs are among the largest and oldest living communities of plants and animals on this planet. Modern reef organisms evolved 200 million years ago and started building structures resembling modern reefs around 60 million years ago. Coral reefs provide food, security, coastal protection and livelihoods for communities throughout the world.

A single reef also forms the direct habitat of thousands of animals and plants.Living coral reefs are essential for marine life in much of the tropics. They are critical in the support of human life. Yet, all over the world the reefs are under severe threat. Already 27% is destroyed. Scientists say that if the trend continues, another 30% will be destroyed in another 10-30 years. The main threats to coral reefs are pollution, sewage, erosion, destructive fishing, overfishing, unsustainable tourism and climate change.


No other ecosystem, terrestrial or marine, supports as many specis of veterbrates as coral reefs. A single reef may provide habitats for several hundred reef species within an area of only a few square kilometres. Coral reefs occupy only 0.25% (less than a 1 percent) of the surface area of the oceans, yet 25% of the world's species of fish are dependent on coral reefs in some way for their survival. It is also believed that between 1-9 million species residing in coral reefs have yet to be discovered and described.



Humans find food from among the coral reefs. Coral reefs provide 10% of the fishing worldwide and 25% of fishing in developing countries. In Southeast Asia, 70-90% of the fish catch is dependent on coral reefs.


Reefs provide a natural physical barrier, reducing wave energy and prevent coastal erosion - a severe problem in many areas in the tropics. In many countries, reefs have been removed and thus resulting in loss of beachfront communities, villages and towns due to increased coastal flooding. Billions of dollars had to be used to build artificial coastal protection systems. A healthy reef will respond to moderatle sea level rise by growth, making coral reefs a frontline defence for low lying countries threatened by sea level rise because of climate change.


Tourism is a crucial and rapidly growing global economic sector, generating tens of billions of dollars in revenue for countries with healthy coral reefs. In many tropical countries, it is the most important source of foreign exchange.


Coral reefs are of immense value to all of humankind because of their potential as a source of pharmaceutical products. The high species diversity and complex behaviours in coral reefs have resulted in highly complex and sophisticated biochemical defence systems. Already scientists have found chemicals used for HIV and cancer treatments in coral reef organisms.


The Potential net benefit streams per year and Net Present Value (NPV) of the world's coral reefs are:

Goods/Services            Amount (world / SE Asia)

Fisheries ......................US$5.7 billion / US$2.3 billion

Coastal Protection ..... US$9.0 billion / US$5.0 billion

Tourism/Recreation ....US$9.6 billion / US$4.9 billion

Biodiversity Value ...... US$5.5 billion / US$0.5billion

TOTAL                          US$29.8 billion / US$12.7 billion

NPV (50 year, 3%)     US $797.4 billion / US$338.5 billion

(source: Worwide Fund for Nature)

Back to top | Back to Coral Reef Programmes | Back to Environmental Programmes

Copyright©2010, all rights reserved