Coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the sea, both due to the vast amount of species they harbour, and to the high productivity they yield. Aside from the hundreds of species of coral, reefs support extraordinary biodiversity and are home to a multitude of different types of fish, invertebrates and sea mammals. Covering less than one percent of the ocean floor, reefs support an estimated twenty-five percent of all marine life, with over 4,000 species of fish alone. Reefs provide spawning, nursery, refuge and feeding areas for a large variety of organisms, including sponges, cnidarians, worms, crustaceans (including shrimp, spiny lobsters and crabs), molluscs (including cephalopods), echinoderms (including starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers), sea squirts, sea turtles and sea snakes.
Reef structures play an important role as natural breakwaters, which minimize wave impacts from storms such as cyclones, hurricanes or typhoons.
Also, their beauty makes coral reefs a powerful attraction for tourism, and well managed tourism provides a sustainable means of earning foreign currency and employment for people around the world, even in remote areas of developing countries.
Several attempts have been made to estimate the value of coral reefs in terms of dollars. Benefits from coral reefs can be categorized into 2 types: “direct use values” (fisheries and tourism industry), and “indirect use values” (benefit derived from coastline protection). According to a United Nations estimate, the total economic value of coral reefs range from US$ 100,000 to 600,000 per square kilometre per year (Source: UNEP-WCMC, 2006)
In summary, healthy coral reefs provide:
- Habitat:Home to over 1 million diverse aquatic species, including thousands of fish species
- Income: Billions of dollars and millions of jobs in over 100 countries around the world
- Food: For people living near coral reefs, especially on small islands
- Protection: A natural barrier protecting coastal cities, communities and beaches
- Medicine: The potential for treatments for many of the world’s most prevalent and dangerous illnesses and diseases.