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Coral Reefs Fast Facts

Coral reefs are essential to healthy coasts and vibrant economies, playing a critical role in everything from protecting lives and property to supporting thousands of businesses.

Climate change is the biggest threat to the world’s coral reefs, causing mass bleaching, among other things.

$3.4BILLION VALUE: The total economic value of coral reef services for the U.S.—including fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection—is over $3.4 billion each year.

500MILLION PEOPLE: Worldwide, more than 500 million people depend on coral reefs for food, income, coastal protection, and more.

$94MILLION SAVINGS: It’s estimated that coral reefs prevent $94 million in flood damages every year. The U.S. ranks in the top 10 countries to receive risk reduction benefits from coral reefs.

Powerful Shoreline Protection Healthy coral reefs absorb 97 perfect of a wave’s energy, which buffers shorelines from currents, waves, and storms, helping to prevent loss of life and property damage. Coastlines protected by coral reefs are also more stable in terms of erosion than those without.

25 Protected Species Under the Endangered Species Act, 22 coral species are listed as threatened, and three are listed as endangered. The primary threats to coral reefs are climate change, pollution, and impacts from unsustainable fishing.

About 25 percent of all marine species are found in, on, and around coral reefs, rivaling the biodiversity of tropical rainforests.

Mass Bleaching—A Coral Reef Crisis Higher sea surface temperatures are directly correlated with widespread coral bleaching; “mass” bleaching (covering hundreds of kilometers or more) is driven by prolonged anomalously warm ocean temperatures. In 2016, heat stress encompassed 51 percent of coral reefs globally and was extremely severe—the first mass bleaching (85 percent bleached) of the northern and far-northern Great Barrier Reef killed 29 percent of the reef’s shallow water corals. Bleaching also occurred in much of the western Indian Ocean, including 69 percent to 99 percent of corals bleached and 50 percent dead in the Seychelles.

The third global bleaching event, from 2014 to 2017, brought mass bleaching-level heat stress to more than 75 percent of global reefs; nearly 30 percent also suffered mortality level stress. This bleaching event was the longest, most widespread, and most destructive on record.

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