The Wider Caribbean (hereafter called the Caribbean) is a large marine realm encompassing the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and part of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean extending out to the tiny island of Bermuda. (See Map 1. The Caribbean Region) Richly endowed with biological treasures, it is also a region of tremendous cultural and political diversity shaped by a vivid history. The wide coastal shelves and warm tropical waters create ideal conditions for the formation of an estimated 26,000 square kilometers (sq km) of coral reefs.  Separated from other coral reefs, these have evolved in isolation, and remarkably few of the many thousands of species in these waters are found anywhere else in the world.
More than 116 million people live within 100 km of the Caribbean coast (see Appendix A: Physical, Social, and Economic Statistics for the Caribbean Region, Table A3: Population of the Wider Caribbean), and many livelihoods depend strongly on the marine environment. Coral reefs contribute significantly to nutrition and employment, particularly in rural areas and among island communities, where there may be few employment alternatives. The reefs are also a major draw for tourists to the region. Coral reefs provide shoreline protection, notably during storms and hurricanes, and generate white sand for many beaches. The biodiversity of coral reef ecosystems has enormous value as a provider of potentially life-saving pharmaceuticals.
Despite their value, coral reefs in the Caribbean are under threat.  Growing coastal populations and rising tourist numbers exert increasing pressure. Land-based activities, including construction, deforestation, and poor agricultural practices, are depositing an increasing load of sediment and nutrients in coastal waters, smothering some corals and contributing to overgrowth by algae. Current levels of fishing pressure are unsustainable in most areas and have already led to species loss and the collapse and closure of fisheries in some countries.  Increasing pressures are undermining the resilience of reefs to threats from global climate change. In addition, extensive areas of corals have succumbed to diseases in recent years. The origins of these diseases remain poorly understood, but corals across the region are susceptible. 
Understanding the effects of human activities on specific reefs, including the economic consequences of these disturbances, is key to future conservation and planning efforts. Within the region numerous studies are underway to assess and monitor particular coral reefs (see Appendix C: Information Activities in teh Caribbean for details). In a few places, such as Jamaica and the Florida Keys, changes in coral condition are well documented, but in most other places, the availability of detailed information is limited, inhibiting effective management.
About the Project
The Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean project was initiated to improve coral reef management by giving resource managers and policymakers specific information and tools to help manage coastal habitats more effectively. The project is designed to raise awareness about the nature and extent of the threats facing the region