01 June 2024

1st June marks World Reef Day, a chance to highlight the importance of healthy coral reefs to ocean ecosystems and to raise awareness of the threats that reefs face globally. Let’s take a more in-depth look at just some of the reasons coral reefs are so important.

  • Although they cover less than 0.1% of the world’s surface, reefs provide a home to an estimated 25% of all marine species in the ocean. This equates to over 4,000 species of reef fish, 840 species of corals and over 1 million species of other animals, such as lobsters, clams, seahorses, sea sponges and sea turtles. These incredible habitats, for this reason, are considered one of the most valuable ecosystems in the world. Due to the sheer diversity of life found in coral reef habitats, they are also often called the ‘rainforests of the sea’. 
Coastal Protection:
  • Because of their hard and jagged structure, coral reefs can reduce wave energy by up to 97% and serve as a natural flood defence along 45,000 miles of coastline worldwide. Roughly 20 million people depend on coral reefs to protect them from storm surges and waves. As climate change continues to increase the frequency and intensity of storms, along with increased flooding levels, communities will become more dependent on coral reefs for coastal protection. 
  • In addition, the global economic contribution of coral reef tourism is estimated to be at $36 billion per year. This revenue helps to support millions of people employed in restaurants, hotels, tour operations, transportation companies, and more. 
  • Reefs also support roughly 6 million fishers in nearly 100 countries. They account for 10-12% of the fish caught in tropical countries, and 20-25% of the fish caught by developing nations.
  • More than half of all new cancer drug research focuses on marine organisms, many of which can be found on coral reefs. There is still much to be understood about coral reef organisms, and scientists believe there is still a wealth of medical knowledge that remains undiscovered. Preserving coral reefs will likely lead to future medical breakthroughs.

Unfortunately, 36% of coral reef species are now at risk of extinction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are severely threatened by human factors such as pollution, sedimentation, unsustainable fishing practices, and climate change. These factors are contributing to a rise in ocean temperatures, causing ocean acidification and ultimately leading to coral bleaching. 

There are small steps we can all take to help protect coral reefs. Reducing your carbon footprint is one way to fight the effects of global warming and lessen large-scale threats to reef ecosystems. Choosing to consume sustainably sourced seafood and opting for reef-safe sunscreen are some other ways you can make a small but important difference. 

Curious to find out more about coral reefs? Visit us and take a look at our beautiful ‘Living Reef’ exhibit, home to a wide variety of species. Corals can also be spotted in our Changing Seas and Garden eel exhibits.