Protecting coral reefs

Protecting rocky corals

Encouraging and supporting multidisciplinary approaches to action relating to coral-reef management, research and monitoring, including the use of early-warning systems for coral bleaching, and collaborating with the International Coral Reef Initiative and the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

Implement and coordinate baseline assessments, long-term monitoring, and rapid response teams to measure the biological and meteorological variables relevant to coral bleaching, mortality and recovery, as well as the socio-economic parameters associated with coral-reef services.


Coral reefs are often referred to as the "rain forests of the oceans" because they sustain nearly 25% of all marine species and represent some of the most magnificent living systems in the world. Coral reefs also support vibrant tourist economies, protect beaches and shorelines from erosion, act as nurseries for growing fish and provide a critical source of food and income for millions of people. Reefs are also a potential source of medicinal cures for many diseases including cancer and AIDS.

Although coral reefs have existed in the oceans for over 260 million years, in the last 40 years, human activity has taken a devastating toll on coral reef ecosystems. Scientists predict that more than 70% of all reefs will be destroyed in our lifetime.

Our ability to adequately project, and thus mitigate, the impacts of global warming on coral-reef ecosystems and the human communities which depend upon coral-reef services is limited by the paucity of information on: (a) The taxonomic, genetic, physiological, spatial, and temporal factors governing the response of corals, zooxanthellae, the coral-zooxanthellae system, and other coral-reef-associated species to increases in sea-surface temperature; (b) The role of coral reefs as critical habitat for marine species and natural resources for human communities; (c) The current status of coral-reef health and threats to coral reefs; and (d) The potential capacity of recovery of corals and resilience of the ecosystem after mass mortality.

Recovery in coral reef rehabilitation is the return of a coral colony to a state of health, including a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, after the health and/or symbiotic relationship has been disrupted by a stress or perturbation. Recovery may involve a change in the genetic composition of species of the zooxanthellae. Resilience is the return of a coral-reef ecosystem to a state in which living, reef-building corals play a prominent functional role, after this role has been disrupted by a stress or perturbation. A shift toward high dominance by frondose algae accompanied by a reduction in the functional role of coral would indicate a situation of low resilience.


1997 was the International Year of the Reef.

The protection of Pulmo Reef is considered one of Mexico's greatest conservation success stories. It is the only living coral reef system in western North America. Over 200 varieties of tropical fish inhabit eight coral fingers, some of which extend to depths of 90 feet. In June of 1995, the Mexican government designated Pulmo Reef (including two other bays to the north and south) as one of three National Marine Parks in Baja California. But poaching by fishermen was rife and unpatroled. Local tourist shops and hotels initiated their own self-styled monitoring and also raised money for a patrol boat. Their exposure of the damage caused by illegal gill nets around the reef alerted government action and prosecutions of the poachers.

Coral reef management includes the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and regional networks, and data-repository and dissemination systems including Reef Base – the Global Coral Reef Database. The current combined Sida-SAREC and World Bank programme on coral-reef degradation in the Indian Ocean, as a response to the 1998 coral-bleaching event, is an example of rehabilitation.

Coral bleaching is relevant not only to the Convention on Biological Diversity but also the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Wetlands. The ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to reduce emissions in a manner that "allows ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change". The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change calls upon Parties to take action in relation to funding, insurance, and technology transfer to address the adverse effects of climate change. The Convention on Wetlands provides guidance on the conservation and wise use of wetlands, including coral reefs.

Constrained by:
Destroying coral reefs
Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 14: Life Below Water