Coral reefs are among the oldest and most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, which have formed over the last 25 million years.
Often referred to as the "rain forests of the sea", coral reefs support more species than any other marine environment. Reefs are home to 25% of all marine life and form the nurseries for about a quarter of the ocean's fish which rely on healthy coral systems for their survival.
Coral reefs occur in over 100 countries and support at least a million described species of animals and plants, and another 8 million coral reef species are estimated to be as yet undiscovered.
Coral reefs form natural barriers that protect nearby shorelines from storms and erosion, thereby protecting coastal dwellings, agricultural land and beaches.
These fragile ecosystems provide habitat, spawning and nursery grounds for important fish species; they are hotspots for marine biodiversity.
Recent scientific studies estimate that 25% of the world's reefs are already gone or damaged beyond recovery and over 60% are degraded or under risk of collapse. Even under ideal conditions, it would take more than a lifetime for some reefs to recover.
Reef degradation is highest in Southeast Asia where nearly 95% of the region's reefs are threatened, mainly due to overfishing and destructive fishing practices.
In Jamaica, it is estimated that almost all of the reefs are dead or severely degraded from overfishing and coastal pollution. Due to the drastic decline in fish stocks, local fishers are now straining fish larvae out of the sea for fish soup.
Human impacts are also occurring on U.S. reefs, due to wildlife trafficking for the aquarium trade. For example, in Hawaii, the top ten aquarium fish species have decreased by 59% over the last 20 years, while the most popular aquarium fish has declined in abundance from 38 to 57%
Coral reefs simply can not support unlimited resource use or unmanaged global trade. Continued decline of healthy reefs will pose serious consequences for people worldwide.
Coral reefs are in a state of global crisis due to human imposed stresses that are threatening their survival, including:
overexploitation of resources for subsistence and commercial fishing
destructive fishing practices that degrade and destroy habitat
marine debris and pollution
wildlife trafficking for the aquarium trade
increasing coastal populations and development
poor land use practices and watershed runoff of pollutants, sediments and nutrients
disease outbreaks, which may be linked to poor water quality and pollutants
coral bleaching, associated with increasing seawater temperatures and climate change