The Importance of Coral Reefs – Value, Threats, Actions To Take

Coral reef on Pedro Bank. Photo: © Tim Calver

Coral reefs are beautiful, complex ecosystems that support countless plant and animal species and are essential for maintaining a healthy ocean. Found mainly in shallow, warm water, healthy coral may be seen in a myriad of vibrant colours, shapes, sizes and designs. Known as “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean but are home to almost 25% of all known marine species- one of the most biodiverse marine areas on the planet, housing hundreds and even thousands of species.

Reefs supply millions of people worldwide with food, livelihoods and protection against environmental threats. The Caribbean itself is made up of over 2.5 million square kilometres of ocean and hundreds of islands, which are especially dependent on coral reefs. The fishing and tourism industries are the major driving forces behind economies across the region, and these industries cannot survive without healthy and thriving coral reefs.

A recent study led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) revealed that coral reefs in Jamaica generate $550 million annually for the country’s economy: $433 million from reef-adjacent activities, like beach visits, and $117 million from on-reef activities, like snorkeling. Over 575,000 people participate in reef-associated tourism each year, making Jamaica one of the top six most-visited countries in the Caribbean for activities linked to coral reefs. Coral reefs with the highest tourism value in Jamaica generate over $5.7 million per square kilometre per year and fall within the top 10% of the Caribbean’s tourism-valued reefs.

Coral reef on the Pedro Bank. Photo: © Tim Calver

In addition, reefs help protect vulnerable communities against the devastating impacts of climate change, including erosion, flooding and extreme weather events – like 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, 2005’s Hurricane Dennis, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which caused many deaths and billions of dollars in infrastructural losses.  Climate change and other threats to our marine ecosystems have pushed many coral species around the globe to the verge of extinction, and the world is witnessing a dramatic loss of coral reefs that will continue to escalate at a dangerous pace unless action is taken.

See next pages for Value of Coral Reefs, Threats to Coral Reefs and Initiatives We Can Support