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coral reefs

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Plastic pollution and dying coral reefs may dominate the news, but beneath the surface, ocean conservation is making headway. Examples from Indonesia, Norway, Africa and more reveal signs of progress.

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Governments, businesses, development agencies, and NGOs are increasingly turning to economic valuation as a way to protect coral reefs and mangroves. This process makes the economic case for protection and sustainable use of natural resources by showing the monetary, employment, and infrastructure benefits ecosystems provide—metrics that are easily understood by decision-makers.

But not all economic valuations are created equal. WRI's new guidebook shows how NGOs and other stakeholders can conduct economic valuations in ways that lead to real change on the ground.

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Tropical coastal ecosystems—including coral reefs, mangroves, beaches, and seagrasses—provide a range of valuable goods and services to people and economies across the Caribbean. These ecosystems contribute to tourism, fisheries, shoreline protection, and more.

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Roughly 75 percent of the Caribbean's coral reefs are threatened--with more than 30 percent ranking in the "high" or "very high" threat category. But one reef system in Cuba, Jardines de la Reina (the "Gardens of the Queen"), offers great lessons—and hope—for effective coral reef management.

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Governments, corporations, and development agencies are increasingly interested in putting a dollar value on ecosystems in order to balance conservation and development needs, a concept known as “economic valuation.” For example, St. Maarten’s government recently established the country’s first marine national park after a local organization found that the area’s coastal ecosystems contribute $58 million per year through tourism and fisheries. Belize enacted a host of new fishing regulations based on a WRI valuation, which found that coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contributes $150 million-$196 million per year to the country’s economy. And in Bonaire, park managers used economic valuation to justify the Bonaire Marine Park’s establishment of user fees—making it one of the few self-financed marine parks in the Caribbean.

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WRI co-hosted a dinner last week to honor Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for advancing sustainability, especially in the Coral Triangle. The event took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, where more than 300 guests from government, business, and the non-profit sector gathered to recognize Indonesia’s president.

WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, opened the event by reminding guests that President Yudhoyono is a “different kind of leader.” Earlier in his career, Steer spent eight years in Indonesia, and he’s seen firsthand how the country has approached its economic and environmental challenges.

“We live in perilous times,” Steer said. “We need innovative thinking and we need out-of-the-box thinking. Today, we have a leader who is an out-of-the-box leader.”

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The Coral Triangle, an area stretching from southeast Asia to the edge of the western Pacific, is one of the most biologically diverse marine regions on earth. The area holds 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs and 75 percent of all known coral species. The region’s coral reefs provide food and livelihoods to more than 130 million people living within the Coral Triangle, as well to millions more worldwide.

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Ever wonder how coral reefs contribute to the economy and human health? Or how 60 percent of these "rainforests of the sea" came to be so threatened by local activities? Or what, exactly, a coral polyp is? WRI's Reefs at Risk team, along with two renowned ocean advocates, have the answers to these questions and many more in the new video, Coral Reefs: Polyps in Peril.

WRI worked with Céline Cousteau, founder of CauseCentric Productions and granddaughter of ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau; and Jim Toomey, creator of the Sherman’s Lagoon comic strip, to create the video. Through Cousteau’s narration and Toomey’s colorful fish animations, viewers can learn about the vital role reefs play in the health of the planet and important economies, the threats these coastal and marine ecosystems face, and how people can help save invaluable corals.

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With more than 75 percent of the world’s coral species and twice the number of reef fish found anywhere else in the world, the Coral Triangle is the center of the world’s marine biodiversity. Stretching from central Southeast Asia to the edge of the western Pacific, 130 million people in the Coral Triangle region depend on marine resources for food and livelihoods. In this way, the region’s coral reefs and associated fisheries are vital to people and national economies, but they’re also severely threatened by overexploitation.

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Since 1998, WRI has been using GIS (Geographic Information System) models to develop map-based assessments of threats to the world’s coral reefs. Reefs at Risk Revisited, released in February 2011, is the latest assessment in the series and is based on a nearly three-year study that produced the most highly-detailed global maps of coral reef threats to date. The study analyzed and mapped threats to coral reefs from local human activities such as coastal development, unsustainable fishing, and marine and land-based pollution, as well as climate-related threats caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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This week, two of my colleagues, Ben Kushner and Lauretta Burke, travelled to Mexico and Belize, respectively, for the launch of a new multinational evaluation of reef management by governments, NGOs, and the private sector. The launch events took place in Belize City, Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and were the result of nine months of collaboration to develop indicators and gather data for this first-ever eco-audit of the Mesoamerican Reef.

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The Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) provides a diverse array of goods and services to the people of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. It is our shared heritage. Unfortunately, the health of the reef is declining, as documented by

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WRI has been using GIS to develop highly detailed maps of the threats to coral reefs worldwide since 1998. Coral reefs are vital to maintaining the diversity and viability of marine ecosystems. They provide livelihoods and food for coastal communities and shelter and protection for shorelines.

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