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How to Reduce Your Coral Reef Footprint

”Reeling Reefs,” a feature story in the August 15th issue of American Way magazine, showcases Reefs at Risk Revisited, WRI’s map-based global assessment of current and future threats to coral reefs. The article also shows how people in the Dominican Republic and Fiji are working to protect coral reefs and promote human well-being. Below we highlight why coral reefs are important to human society, how they are threatened, and what you can do to reduce your reef footprint and help save coral reefs.

Why are coral reefs important?

Coral reefs are beautiful, diverse, productive and biologically rich ecosystems. Reefs are home to more than a quarter of all marine species even though they extend over less than one-tenth of one percent of the marine environment. Reefs provide a wide array of goods and services to people around the world, and hold cultural and spiritual significance for many coastal societies.

Some 850 million people or one-eighth of the world’s population live within 100 kilometers of a coral reef and are likely to derive some benefits from the ecosystem services that coral reefs provide. Reefs buffer coastlines from the ravages of storms. They serve as nurseries for fisheries, providing food and livelihoods to millions of people. They attract divers, snorkelers, and beachgoers, bringing in tourism dollars across the tropics. Reefs also generate pharmaceutical compounds that hold the potential to fight infections, AIDS, and cancer.1 All told, coral reefs provide benefits to hundreds of millions of people around the world, and contribute billions of dollars per year in economic benefits to society.2 A threat to coral reefs is therefore a threat to human society.

How are they threatened?

Seventy-five percent of the world’s reefs are currently at risk from local and global threats.

Local threats to reefs include overfishing, destructive fishing, untreated sewage, agricultural runoff, coastal development, and damage from ships.

Reefs also face the growing global threat of climate change. As sea surface temperatures rise, many corals bleach and some even die. Furthermore, as carbon dioxide concentrations increase, the ocean becomes more acidic, making it difficult for reefs to build their complex and beautiful skeletons.

Unless steps are taken to reduce local pressures and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, 90 percent of the world’s reefs will be threatened by 2030, and virtually all reefs will be threatened by 2050.

Unless steps are taken to reduce local pressures and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, 90 percent of the world’s reefs will be threatened by 2030, and virtually all reefs will be threatened by 2050.

Are coral reefs doomed to extinction?

Not necessarily. The good news is that many coral reefs are by nature resilient. Reefs can recover when local pressures such as pollution and overfishing are low—as experience on the Mesoamerican Reef shows. There is an urgent need for action to do more to reduce local pressures on reefs, to help them survive the growing threat from warming seas and ocean acidification. Of course, we must also lower our greenhouse gas emissions in order to save coral reefs.

Is there anything I can do to help save coral reefs?

Definitely. In today’s globalized world, our everyday actions can have far-reaching implications. Regardless of whether you live near or far from a coral reef, you can take action to help them. Below are recommendations for how you can reduce your reef footprint and help save coral reefs:

If you live near or visit coral reefs:

  • Follow local regulations designed to protect reef ecosystems.
  • Fish sustainably, avoiding rare species, juveniles, breeding animals, spawning aggregations, and the use of destructive fishing practices (e.g., trawling, poison and blast fishing).
  • Avoid causing physical damage to reefs with boat anchors, or by trampling or touching reefs while diving or snorkeling.
  • Reduce household waste, including chemicals and fertilizers, that reach waterways.
  • Support local conservation efforts and participate in planning and development decisions that affect reefs.
  • Engage your local political representatives about the importance of reef conservation.
  • Choose eco-conscious tourism providers.
  • Tell people if you see them doing something harmful to reefs (e.g., littering on the beach or stepping on coral).
  • Visit and support marine protected areas.
  • Avoid buying souvenirs made from corals and other marine species.

Wherever you are:

  • Eat sustainably.
  • Avoid buying products made from coral reefs.
  • Advocate for coral reefs, the environment, and climate change issues within your government.
  • Educate your friends, family and peers about reefs and how they can help.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Support NGOs that conserve coral reefs and encourage sustainable development in reef regions.

Coral reefs are extremely valuable but are also highly threatened. The time is now to take action to reverse the decline of these spectacular ecosystems, so that they continue to provide food, livelihoods, and inspiration to people around the world for generations to come.

To learn more, please register for our Reefs at Risk Newsletter and visit the Reefs at Risk Revisited webpage. You can also read more stories about coral reefs around the world.


  1. U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. 2004. An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century Final Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. 

  2. Cesar, H., L. Burke, and L. Pet-Soede. 2003. The Economics of Worldwide Coral Reef Degradation. Arnhem, The Netherlands: Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting. 

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