Fast Facts

  • Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems on Earth.
  • Coral reefs are the largest living structure on the planet, and the only living structure to be visible from space.
  • The Great Barrier Reef (off the coast of NE Australia) is the largest coral reef in the world. It is over 1,257 miles (2000 km) long.
  • Coral reefs form natural barriers that protect nearby shorelines from the eroding forces of the sea, thereby protecting coastal dwellings, agricultural land and beaches.
  • Scientists are looking to coral reefs to provide critical medical compounds for use in the treatment of cancer, HIV, cardiovascular diseases and ulcers.
  • 32 of the 34 recognised animal Phyla are found on coral reefs compared to 9 Phyla in tropical rainforests.1
  • Occupying less than one quarter of 1% of the marine environment, coral reefs are home to more than 25% of all known marine fish species.2
  • Properly managed coral reefs can yield an average of 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood per square kilometre each year.3
  • Southeast Asia’s coral reef fisheries alone are estimated to yield US$ 2.4 billion annually.4
  • More than 80% of the world’s shallow reefs are severely over-fished.1
  • 58% of the world’s coral reefs are potentially threatened by human activity.2
  • Coral reefs are found in 109 countries; significant reef degradation has occurred in 93.5
  • From 1876-1979 only three bleaching events were recorded, whereas 60 are on record from 1980 until 1993.6
  • We have already lost 27% of the world’s coral reefs. If present rates of destruction are allowed to continue, 60% of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed over the next 30 years.7
  • More than 450 million people live within 60 kilometres of coral reefs, with the majority directly or indirectly deriving food and income from them.8
  • The total economic value of Indonesia ‘s reefs is estimated at US$1.6 billion annually.4
  • The total economic value of Philippine reefs is estimated at US$1.1 billion annually.4
  • Coral reefs in the Malacca Straits have an economic value of US$563 million.4
  • Globally, tourism is estimated to provide US$9.6 billion in annual net benefits and a multiple of this amount in tourism spending.7
  • Southeast Asia is considered the global epicentre of marine diversity. Its 100,000km2 of coral reefs (34% of the world’s total) are home to over 600 of the 800 reef-building coral species in the world.4
  • Indonesia and the Philippines hold 77% of Southeast Asia’s coral reefs and nearly 80% of threatened reefs.4

1 Wilkinson, C. 2002. Status of Coral Reefs of the World, Australian Institute of Marine Science
2 Bryant, D., Burke, L., McManus, J., and Spalding, M. 1998. Reefs at Risk: A map-based indicator of potential threats to the world’s coral reefs, World Resources Institute
3 Cesar, H. 1996. Economic Analysis of Indonesian Coral Reefs, Washington, D.C., The World Bank.4 Burke, L., Selig, E., and Spalding, M. 2002. Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia, World Resources Institute
5 Mulvaney, K. 1997. Rainforests of the Sea, BBC Wildlife
6 Glynn, P.W. 1993. Coral reef bleaching: ecological perspectives, Coral Reefs 12:1-17
7 Cesar, H., Burke, L. and Pet-Soede, L. 2002. The Economics of Worldwide Coral Reef Degradation. Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting, Arnhem, The Netherlands. 23pp
8 Clive R. Wilkinson, 1996. Global Change and Coral Reefs: Impacts on reefs, economies and cultures, Global Change Biology