Fast Facts / Coral Reefs

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are essential to healthy coasts and vibrant economies, playing a critical role in everything from protecting lives and property to supporting thousands of businesses.

Climate change is the biggest threat to the world’s coral reefs, causing mass bleaching, among other things.

$3.4 Billion Value

The total economic value of coral reef services for the U.S.—including fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection—is over $3.4 billion each year.1

1 Billion People

Worldwide, an estimated one billion people benefit either directly or indirectly from the ecosystem services coral reefs provide.2

$1.8 Billion in Protection

Annually, U.S. coral reefs provide flood protection benefits of $1.8 billion in averted damages to property and economic activity.3

Powerful Shoreline Protection

Healthy coral reefs absorb 97 percent of a wave’s energy, which buffers shorelines from currents, waves, and storms, helping to prevent loss of life and property damage. Coastlines protected by coral reefs are also more stable in terms of erosion than those without.4

24 Protected Species

Under the Endangered Species Act, 22 coral species are listed as threatened, and two are listed as endangered. The primary threats to coral reefs are climate change, pollution, and impacts from unsustainable fishing.5

Habitat for Millions

About 25 percent of all marine species are found in, on, and around coral reefs, rivaling the biodiversity of tropical rainforests.6

$200 Million for Fisheries

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that the annual value of U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries dependent on coral reefs is $100 million each.7

Mass Bleaching—A Coral Reef Crisis

Higher sea surface temperatures are directly correlated with widespread coral bleaching; “mass” bleaching (covering hundreds of kilometers or more) is driven by prolonged anomalously warm ocean temperatures. In 2016, heat stress encompassed 51 percent of coral reefs globally and was extremely severe—the first mass bleaching (85 percent bleached) of the northern and far-northern Great Barrier Reef killed 29 percent of the reef’s shallow water corals. Bleaching also occurred in much of the western Indian Ocean, including 69 percent to 99 percent of corals bleached and 50 percent dead in the Seychelles.

The third global bleaching event, from 2014 to 2017, brought mass bleaching-level heat stress to more than 75 percent of global reefs; nearly 30 percent also suffered mortality level stress. This bleaching event was the longest, most widespread, and most destructive on record.8

CORAL REEFS: Protectors and Providers $3.4 billion value every year, benefiting fisheries, tourism, and coastal communities
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