Coral reefs are often called the rainforests of the sea, both due to the vast amount of species they harbor, and to the high productivity they yield. Aside from the hundreds of species of coral, reefs support extraordinary biodiversity and are home to a multitude of different types of fish, invertebrates and sea mammals. Covering less than one percent of the ocean floor, reefs support an estimated twenty-five percent of all marine life, with over 4,000 species of fish alone.
Healthy coral reefs provide a range of benefits
Reefs provide spawning, nursery, refuge and feeding areas for a large variety of organisms, including sponges, cnidarians, worms, crustaceans (including shrimp, spiny lobsters and crabs), mollusks (including cephalopods), echinoderms (including starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers), sea squirts, sea turtles and sea snakes.
Reef structures play an important role as natural breakwaters, which minimize wave impacts from storms such as cyclones, hurricanes or typhoons.
Also, their beauty makes coral reefs a powerful attraction for tourism, and well managed tourism provides a sustainable means of earning foreign currency and employment for people around the world, even in remote areas of developing countries. Other benefits include:
- Habitat: Home to over 1 million diverse aquatic species, including thousands of fish species.
- Income: Coral reefs and related ecosystems have a global estimated value of ‘$2.7 trillion per year, or 2.2% of all global ecosystem service values’, this includes tourism and food.
- Coastal protection: coral reefs reduce shoreline erosion by absorbing energy from the waves: they can protect coastal housing, agricultural land and beaches. The global net benefit of coastal protection by reefs is an estimated $9 billion per year.
- Medicine: Reefs are home to species that contain pharmaceutical compounds that have potential for treatments for some of the world’s most prevalent and dangerous illnesses and diseases.