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Coral reefs are highly endangered by the general degradation of marine ecosystems
Coral reefs are highly endangered by the general degradation of marine ecosystems
Courtesy of OAR/Natioanl Undersea Research Program (NURP)/B.Walden


As millions of people migrate to seaboard cities, the population of the world's coastal zones is expected to double within the next 20 to 30 years. This rapid increase in construction and outflows of urban and industrial wastes will further endanger fragile coastline environments. A recent study found that more than half the coastal zones in most regions were already moderately to highly at risk.

Coral reefs, one of five ecosystems types found in the marine environment, are among the first victims. The Reefs at Risk project of the World Resources Institute found that:

  • Fifty-eight percent of the world's reefs are potentially threatened by human activity -- ranging from coastal development and destructive fishing practices to overexploitation of resources, marine pollution, and runoff from inland deforestation and farming.
  • Coral reefs of Southeast Asia, the most species-rich on earth, are the most threatened of any region. More than 80 percent are at risk (under medium and high potential threat), and over half are at high risk, primarily from coastal development and fishing-related pressures.
  • Overexploitation and coastal development pose the greatest potential threat of the four risk categories considered in this study. Each, individually, affects a third of all reefs.
  • The Pacific, which houses more reef area than any other region, is also the least threatened. About 60 percent of reefs here are at low risk.
  • Outside of the Pacific, 70 percent of all reefs are at risk.
  • At least 11 percent of the world's coral reefs contain high levels of reef fish biodiversity and are under high threat from human activities. These "hot spot" areas include almost all Philippine reefs, and coral communities off the coasts of Indonesia, Tanzania, the Comoros, and the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean.
  • Almost half a billion people -- 8 percent of the total global population -- live within 100 kilometres of a coral reef.
  • Globally, more than 400 marine parks, sanctuaries, and reserves (marine protected areas) contain coral reefs. Most of these sites are very small -- more than 150 are less than one square kilometre in size.
  • At least 40 countries lack any marine protected areas for conserving their coral reef systems.
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