Coral reefs cover an area of over 280,000 km2 and support thousands of species in what many describe as the rainforests of the seas. Coral reefs benefit the environment and people in numerous ways. For example, they protect shores from the impact of waves and from storms, provide benefits to humans in the form of food and medicine, provide economic benefits to local communities from tourism. In the past few years, concerns about coral reefs have been raisen. Twenty percent of the world’s coral reefs have been effectively destroyed and show no immediate prospects of recovery, approximately 40% of the 16% of the world’s reefs that were seriously damaged in 1998 are either recovering well or have recovered, the report predicts that 24% of the world’s reefs are under imminent risk of collapse through human pressures; and a further 26% are under a longer term threat of collapse.
Ecologically speaking the value of coral reefs is even greater because they are integral to the well being of the oceans as we know them. Picture reefs as the undersea equivalent of rainforest trees. Tropical waters are naturally low in nutrients because the warm water limits nutrients essential for life from welling up from the deep, which is why they are sometimes called a marine desert. Through the photosynthesis carried out by their algae, coral serve as a vital input of food into the tropical/sub-tropical marine food-chain, and assist in recycling the nutrients too. The reefs provide home and shelter to over 25% of fish in the ocean and up to two million marine species. They are also a nursery for the juvenile forms of many marine creatures.