Coral reefs provide the first line of defense for 63 million people in 100 countries across the globe who live in coastal and low-lying areas.
—Atlas of Ocean Wealth (Spalding et al. 2016)
Fish Habitat & Biodiversity
Though they cover only a small amount of the ocean floor, coral reefs are home to 25% of marine species. The complex food webs that start in the reef support not just the residents of the reef but also many species that rely on those fish for food--including the humans who fish there. “Mo Reef, Mo Fish -- No Reef, No Fish”
Coral reefs protect coastal people and property by acting like natural breakwaters. This occurs because bottom friction increases as waves move across reefs, causing waves to break and disperse their wave energy (Gourlay 1994, 1996a,b; Hardy and Young 1996). Healthy reefs dissipate wave energy by up to 97% (Ferrario et al. 2014), reducing storm surges and helping maintain shorelines by mitigating erosion and supplying and trapping sediment on beaches.
By reducing exposure to waves, flooding, and erosion, and by providing social, economic, and ecological benefits before, during, and after catastrophic events, coral reefs act as a first line of defense for coastal communities.
The wave attenuation benefits of coral reefs are comparable to artificial defenses. However, coral reefs are self-sustaining ecosystems, meaning that – if healthy – reefs continue to grow and protect shorelines without assistance from humans. Manmade structures, in contrast, require regular maintenance making them more expensive over time (Simard et al. 2016). Thus, coral reefs are a more cost effective, sustainable solution to provide coastal protection, but need to harbor healthy corals that grow and reproduce for these benefits to continue.
Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, yet they serve as home to over 25% of marine species--and even more species rely on the reefs as part of complex food webs. This densely diverse environment produces interdependence, but also a critical need for self-defense. The little immobile critters of the reef often rely on unusual and even mysterious chemical defenses to survive. These chemicals and other marine resources are proving valuable to medical researchers who have used marine sources for pharmaceuticals to treat cancer, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, infections, and much more.
Scientists have only begun to discover and explore the applications of the many species from under the sea. Protecting this underwater laboratory is crucial in ways we have not yet even imagined.
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The value of coral reefs in Hawaii extends far beyond their economic value, but also upholds industries, food security, coastal protection, and recreation.
The Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative Research Program (HCRI-RP) has sponsored studies that measure the economic value for coastal ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands. One such project reports that Hawaii’s nearshore reefs annually generate about $800 million in gross revenues (or, $364 million in added value), a figure based solely on economic factors.
The ecological, economic, cultural, and recreational value of coral reefs in Hawaii exceeds 33 billion dollars (NOAA commissioned study)
A valuation assessment from 2004 quantified the benefits of coral reefs at $360 million per year for Hawaii’s economy (Cesar and Beukering, 2004)
According to a status report published by NOAA in 2018, Oahu’s coral condition is considered “impaired,” with the highest climate score and lowest fish score of the archipelagic assessment (Coral Reef Condition Report, 2018). Since Oahu is home to nearly 1 million residents and received six million visitors in 2019, the pressure of human density is disproportionately impacting corals and reef ecosystems compared to other islands.