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Reefs at Risk

A Map-Based Indicator of Threats to the World's Coral Reefs

The fate of coral reefs, the ocean, and humankind forty years from now and forevermore will depend on the intelligence, motivation, and caring of people now alive. In that spirit, this report provides hope that we may succeed. —Sylvia A. Earle, Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society.

This global, map-based analysis evaluates human pressure on coral reefs worldwide and provides information and tools to better manage coastal habitats.

Note: This analysis has been updated. Please see Reefs at Risk Revisited (2011) for the most recent data.

Key Findings

Executive Summary

In many communities around the globe coral reefs are a vital source of food, a draw for much needed tourist dollars, and a protective buffer for vulnerable coastlines. They are also some of the most ancient and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. In fact, though they occupy less than one quarter of 1 percent of the earth's marine environment, they are home to more than a quarter of all known marine fish species. These habitats have been called the "rainforests of the sea": highly productive, rich in species, and -- because they are predominantly located in many regions noted for extreme poverty and high population growth rates -- particularly vulnerable to future degradation.

Reefs at Risk: A Map-Based Indicator of Threats to the World's Coral Reefs, produced by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in collaboration with the WorldFish Center (formerly ICLARM), the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is the first global assessment of coral reefs to map areas at risk from overfishing, coastal development, and other human activity.

The study finds that nearly 60 percent of the earth's coral reefs are threatened by human activity -- ranging from coastal development and overfishing to inland and marine pollution -- leaving much of the world's marine biodiversity at risk. In addition, the report concludes that while reefs provide billions of people and hundreds of countries with food, tourism revenue, coastal protection and new medications for increasingly drug-resistant diseases -- worth about $375 billion each year -- they are among the least monitored and protected natural habitats in the world.


Financial Support

  • Bay Foundation
  • Henry Foundation
  • David & Lucile Packard Foundation
  • Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency

Project Partners

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