Top: The severity and frequency of local and global scale stressors are causing serious declines in coral reef ecosystems worldwide, for instance from mass bleaching events. Bottom: Building resilience in coral reef systems can help maintain reef health and biodiversity, like this reef slope in the Great Barrier Reef. Photos: top © Bruce Carlson; bottom © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Coral reefs worldwide are facing severe threats that jeopardize their survival and have already led to degradation and destruction in many places. New management actions are desperately needed to ensure reefs continue to exist and recover their structure and function where that has been compromised. Fortunately, scientists, conservationists, and environmental managers across the globe are developing and implementing new strategies to protect and conserve these ecosystems against a suite of local and global stressors.

In addition to understanding and communicating the importance of coral reefs, it is also critically important to understand the extent to which reefs are at risk.

Below are key findings from the 2011 Reefs at Risk Revisited report  ref that quantified the current threats to coral reefs worldwide and projected the risk of future degradation.

Status of Coral Reefs Worldwide

  • Approximately 75% of coral reefs worldwide are currently threatened by a combination of local and global stressors.
  • Coral reefs are experiencing higher ocean temperatures and acidity than ever before in the last 400,000 years.
  • Over 60% of coral reefs worldwide are directly experiencing one or more local stresses.
  • Fishing threats (i.e., overfishing and destructive fishing) are considered the most significant non-climate related threat affecting coral reefs, and they affect more than 55% of all reefs worldwide.
  • By 2050, almost all reefs will be classified as threatened by the combination of global and local stressors.
  • Without actions taken to minimize local stressors, the percent of threatened coral reefs worldwide will rise to 90% by 2030 and close to 100% by 2050.


Threats in Different Coral Reef Regions

Coral Reefs of the World Classified by Threat from Local Activities

world map threats

This map shows a global classification of coral reefs by the estimated present threat from local human activities, according to Reefs at Risk integrated local threat index. The index includes overfishing and destructive fishing, coastal development, watershed-based pollution, marine-based pollution and damage. Global warming and ocean acidification are not included as they are global, not local threats. Click to enlarge. Map © WRI (World Resources Institute)

  • Almost 95% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are threatened.
  • Indonesia has the largest area of threatened coral reefs, with fishing threats being the main stressor on coral reefs.
  • More than 75% of the coral reefs in the Atlantic are threatened. In over 20 countries and territories in this region, all coral reefs are rated as threatened.
  • Over 65% of the coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East are under stress by local threats.
  • Nearly 50% of coral reefs in the Pacific are threatened.
  • Approximately 14% of Australia’s coral reefs are threatened, though it is ranked as the least threatened coral reef region.


Increases in Threats to Coral Reefs

  • The percentage of threatened coral reefs has increased by 30% in the past 10 years.
  • Increases have occurred across all local threats and all regions of the world.
  • Fishing threats (overfishing and destructive fishing) have increased by 80% in the last 10 years, making it the greatest non-climate related stressor facing coral reefs worldwide.
  • Mass coral bleaching has now occurred in every region of the world.
  • It is projected that during most years in the 2050s, 95% of coral reefs will experience high thermal stress and potential bleaching.
  • Due to ocean acidification, it is projected that by 2050 only about 15% of coral reefs will be in areas where aragonite levels are adequate for coral growth.
  • 27 countries and territories are identified as highly vulnerable to reef loss across the world’s reef regions; 19 of these are small island states.
threats by region

Reefs at risk from integrated local threats by region. Click to enlarge. Image © WRI (World Resources Institute)

It is important to communicate the status of coral reefs on the local level. This information can often be difficult to find or access. For country level information on the threats to reefs you can access the Reefs At Risk website to find reports that include detailed global, regional, and local reef information.


Coral Reef Alliance’s Threats to Coral Reefs

UN Atlas of the Oceans Coral Reef Threat Assessment

International Year of the Reef Coral Reef Status and Threats WRI’s website Reefs at Risk

Reefs at Risk Revisited (pdf, 6.4M)

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Last updated April 11, 2018

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