Though coral reefs constitute less than one percent of the ocean floor, they support an estimated 25 percent of ocean life, serving as critical spawning, nursery, breeding and feeding grounds for thousands of species.
- Jack Cover, General Curator, National Aquarium
The loss of thriving coral reefs has real consequences, and not just to their many inhabitants. Besides being essential habitats for fish, coral reefs have a measurable value to those who live on land. Because they essentially serve as mountain ranges for the ocean's coastlines, they deflect the energy of brutal storms that might otherwise decimate coastal communities. In fact, in areas where we have experienced tsunamis, the areas with coral reefs fared much better than those without.
Chemical compounds unique to coral reefs are especially useful for medicinal purposes. Researchers have used coral amalgams to treat ailments including ulcers, skin cancers and heart disorders. Once the correct formula is identified, the medicines can be synthetically mass-produced .
And of course, the natural beauty of coral reefs makes them attractive for tourists, too. Visitors from all over the world flock to the Florida Keys, Barbados, Indonesia, Australia and other destinations to get a closer look. Most of these areas rely heavily on tourism for economic growth and sustainability, so preserving coral reefs is vital to their economies.
All told, the economic value of coral reefs has been estimated to be $375 billion per year.