elkhorn corals in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico | Elkhorn corals thrive in a protected marine area. © Chelsea Harms-Tuohy

Stories in the Caribbean

Reef Responsible

By raising critical awareness about sustainable seafood choices, this initiative empowers communities that depend on coral reefs to help protect them.

Reef Responsible logo
Reef Responsible An initiative that brings to light the power communities have to make a difference by making sustainable seafood choices © TNC

Making Good Seafood Choices Means Making a Difference

Reef Responsible is an initiative led by TNC and partners to raise awareness about the vital role restaurants, consumers and fishers can play in the fight to save coral reefs. Building on the success of its launch in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the initiative has now expanded into Puerto Rico. Reef Responsible helps educate local communities, as well as travelers visiting the islands, about the importance of choosing sustainably harvested, local seafood options that can help reverse the decline of the Caribbean’s iconic and valuable coral reefs.

Coral reefs around the world are dying at an alarming rate. This global crisis is particularly evident in the Caribbean and poses a grave threat to communities, as half of all livelihoods in the region depend on healthy coral reefs. Scientists estimate that living coral cover in the Caribbean has decreased by nearly 60 percent in recent decades, with 90 percent of the region’s remaining reef systems classified as threatened. The primary causes for this coral reef crisis are unsustainable fishing practices, rising ocean temperatures resulting from climate change, coastal development and pollution from sewage and agricultural runoff.

Reef Responsible raises awareness about the link between unsustainable fishing practices and the health of coral reefs—and brings to light the power communities have to create change by making responsible seafood choices. By teaching restaurants, consumers and fishers how to make educated reef-conscious choices, Reef Responsible motivates them to become part of a community-based movement to protect the essential ecosystems that support their livelihoods, households and economies—and that provide the delicious fish on their plate!


Reef-safe Eating Made Easy

Through Reef Responsible, restaurants, consumers and fishers learn which marine species are reef-safe to sell, eat and catch. Restaurants volunteer to join the Reef Responsible initiative and commit to serving only sustainable seafood options, which helps consumers make informed choices and provides fishers with a market for their reef-friendly catch. Reef Responsible offers a color-coded guide to choosing sustainable seafood, with a comprehensive list of marine species separated into Good Choice, Go Slow, Least Recommended and Do Not Eat categories.

For example, lionfish—an Indo-Pacific species that is invasive in the Caribbean—tops the Good Choice list. Lionfish prey on parrotfish, a species that helps reefs thrive by constantly “cleaning” them when they feed on algae. Choosing lionfish over parrotfish is beneficial to reefs. Threatened species like the goliath grouper and Atlantic tarpon are found on the Do Not Eat list as they should never be chosen. Reef Responsible plans to further develop the information provided to restaurants and consumers, with the goal of identifying the origin of the fish for sale, the gear with which it was harvested, and the laws and regulations that protect the species.

By making key information accessible and shining a spotlight on the opportunity to make a difference with each and every choice of which seafood to sell, eat and catch, Reef Responsible promotes sustainable use of natural resources for long-term marine health, economic stability and food security.

Get Involved and Help Protect Our Ocean