Why Do Coral Reefs Matter?
Hidden beneath the surface of the sea, coral reefs are among the richest ecosystems in the world, providing marine life with vital habitat and supplying communities with food, livelihoods and protection against environmental threats. Coral reefs:
- Benefit approximately 500 million people worldwide each day
- Generate $300 billion annually for local economies from reef-related goods and services
- Provide habitat and shelter for 25 percent of all fish species
The fishing and tourism industries are the major driving forces behind local economies throughout the Caribbean and they are dependent upon healthy and thriving coral reefs. In addition, reefs protect coasts against the devastating impacts of climate change, including erosion, flooding and life-threatening extreme weather events.
Why Is This An Urgent Conservation Issue?
Reefs are essential but they are disappearing rapidly. In the Caribbean, this situation is especially critical. Scientists estimate that living coral cover in the Caribbean has decreased by 50 to 80 percent in the past three decades alone. Seven coral species in the region are listed as threatened, including staghorn and elkhorn — both critical Caribbean reef builders. There is undeniable evidence that climate change is a primary cause of coral mortality as oceans grow warmer each year, causing coral bleaching and disease. This, combined with increased fishing pressures and greater ocean acidity due to unsustainable carbon emissions and pollution, results in reef degradation at an alarming rate.
The Nature Conservancy has been a leader in coral conservation for decades, involved in the establishment of underwater coral nurseries in six geographies in the Caribbean — U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Grenada, The Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Cuba — and using restoration techniques that have transformed dying reefs by introducing new, healthy corals. Today, the Conservancy has a multifaceted approach to restore the long-term health of coral reef ecosystems, increase their resilience to a changing climate and address the threats that have caused their deterioration.
Our Approach: Saving Reefs With Science, Collaboration and Global Action
Design and build a network of coral protected zones and restoration sites
Coral genetic diversity has evolved over millions of years. To ensure that corals will persist and thrive into the future, this diversity and the natural resilience and adaptability it provides must be carefully preserved. Using advanced modeling techniques, we can identify coral areas that have high numbers of coral larvae or spawning rates, strong connections between reefs and are near ocean currents that naturally bring varied species to strengthen reef ecosystems. By designing and building networks of these priority coral areas, protection and restoration efforts are more effective and have a greater chance of preserving genetic diversity for long-term conservation success.
Invest in innovative coral reef restoration techniques
Coral restoration efforts must progress quickly across expansive, but carefully chosen, reef systems in order to outpace today’s rate of coral degradation. To achieve this, the Conservancy is partnering with leading coral science organizations — including Mote Marine Laboratory, SECORE International and Coral Reef Alliance — to implement and advance cutting-edge restoration techniques like microfragmentation and facilitated sexual reproduction. With a goal of restoring 1 million corals across the region, innovative science and successful partnerships are making it possible to bring reefs back to life at unprecedented scales.
Reduce threats to coral reefs by addressing the root causes of degradation
From global issues like climate change to local pressures like overfishing, coastal development and pollution, coral reefs face a myriad of threats that not only accelerate their decline but can thwart restoration efforts. The Conservancy addresses these issues through several targeted programs — including the Caribbean Challenge Initiative, the Caribbean Marine Biodiversity Program and the launch of our new International Climate Initiative —and by working on the ground to train fishers and protected area managers in practices that reduce threats to reefs. Wide-reaching awareness campaigns implemented by the Conservancy and partners have educated communities and tourists about the importance of protecting reefs and consumers about making reef-responsible seafood choices.
Share science and expertise to catalyze global coral action
The Conservancy’s coral restoration approach in the Caribbean is designed to be replicated and applied around the globe. Our Reef Resilience Network is an online education and training platform that reaches thousands of coral restoration managers and practitioners from over 60 countries and territories. In addition, the Conservancy is working toward establishing a Coral Conservation Hub on our nature preserve on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which will host an interdisciplinary network of restoration practitioners, scientists, partner organizations, local stakeholders and universities to advance coral research and promote education. By sharing our science and expertise and engaging diverse audiences, the Conservancy aims to bring about a revolution in coral reef restoration and to mobilize global action so these unique and imperative ecosystems will not be lost.
The Conservancy and SECORE International carry out the first successful coral spawning and sexual reproduction expedition in the Virgin Islands.
Leading coral science and conservation organizations are joining forces to accelerate vital reef restoration work.