Sunday, May 22, 2011

75% of world's coral reefs under threat, new analysis finds - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - 'Reefs at Risk Revisited' report presents

An analysis released February 23, 2011 finds that 75 percent of the world's coral reefs are currently threatened by local and global pressures. For the first time, the analysis includes threats from climate change, including warming seas and rising ocean acidification. The report shows that local pressures - such as overfishing, coastal development and pollution - pose the most immediate and direct risks, threatening more than 60 percent of coral reefs today.

'Reefs at Risk Revisited,' the most detailed assessment of threats to coral reefs ever undertaken, is being released by the World Resources Institute, along with the Nature Conservancy, the WorldFish Center, the International Coral Reef Action Network, Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, and the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Center, along with a network of more than 25 organizations. Launches also took place in Australia, Caribbean, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the United States and other locations around the world.

'This report serves as a wake-up call for policy-makers, business leaders, ocean managers, and others about the urgent need for greater protection for coral reefs,' said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. 'As the report makes clear, local and global threats, including climate change, are already having significant impacts on coral reefs, putting the future of these beautiful and valuable ecosystems at risk.'

Local pressures - especially overfishing and destructive fishing - are causing many reefs to be degraded. Global pressures are leading to coral bleaching from rising sea temperatures and increasing ocean acidification from carbon dioxide pollution. According to the new analysis, if left unchecked, more than 90 percent of reefs will be threatened by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050.

'Coral reefs are valuable resources for millions of people worldwide. Despite the dire situation for many reefs, there is reason for hope,' said Lauretta Burke, senior associate at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and a lead author of the report. 'Reefs are resilient, and by reducing the local pressures we can buy time as we find global solutions to preserve reefs for future generations.'

The report includes multiple recommendations to better protect and manage reefs, including through marine protected areas. The analysis shows that more than one-quarter of reefs are already encompassed in a range of parks and reserves, more than any other marine habitat. However, only six percent of reefs are in protected areas that are effectively managed.

'Well managed marine protected areas are one of the best tools to safeguard reefs,' said Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy and also a lead author of the report. 'At their core, reefs are about people as well as nature: ensuring stable food supplies, promoting recovery from coral bleaching, and acting as a magnet for tourist dollars. We need to apply the knowledge we have to shore up existing protected areas, as well as to designate new sites where threats are highest, such as the populous hearts of the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa and the Middle East,' he added.

Reefs offer multiple benefits to people and the economy - providing food, sustaining livelihoods, supporting tourism, protecting coasts, and even helping to prevent disease. According the report, more than 275 million people live in the direct vicinity (30 km/18 miles) of coral reefs. In more than 100 countries and territories, coral reefs protect 150,000 km (over 93,000 miles) of shorelines, helping defend coastal communities and infrastructure against storms and erosion.

For the first time, the report identifies the 27 nations most socially and economically vulnerable to coral reef degradation and loss. Among these, the nine most vulnerable countries are: Haiti, Grenada, Philippines, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji, and Indonesia.

'The people at greatest risk are those who depend heavily on threatened reefs, and who have limited capacity to adapt to the loss of the valuable resources and services reefs provide,' said Allison Perry, project scientist at the WorldFish Center and a lead author. 'For highly vulnerable nations - including many island nations - there is a pressing need for development efforts to reduce dependence on reefs and build adaptive capacity, in addition to protecting reefs from threats.'

The report is an update of 'Reefs at Risk,' released by WRI in 1998, which served as an important resource for policymakers to understand and address the threats of reefs. The new report uses the latest data and satellite information to map coral reefs - including a reef map with a resolution 64 times higher than the original report.

'Through new technology and improved data, this study provides valuable tools and information for decision makers from national leaders to local marine managers,' said Katie Reytar, research associate at WRI and a lead author. 'In order to maximize the benefits of these tools, we need policymakers to commit to greater action to address the growing threats to coral reefs.'
Improvement in the collection and treatment of wastewater from coastal settlements benefits both reefs and people through improved water quality and reduced risk of bacterial infections, algal blooms, and toxic fish. Estimates show that for every US$1 invested in sanitation, the net benefit is US$3 to US$34 in economic, environmental, and social improvement for the nearby community.
Both the live reef food fish—that is, fish captured to sell live in markets and restaurants—and the ornamental species trades are high-value industries. The ornamental species trade takes in an estimated $200 million to $330 million per year globally, with the majority of exports leaving Southeast Asian countries and entering the United States and Europe. The overall value of the industry has remained stable within the past decade, though trade statistics are incomplete. The live reef food fish trade is concentrated mainly in Southeast Asia, with the majority of fish exported from the Philippines and Indonesia and imported through Hong Kong to  China. Over time, the trade has expanded its reach, drawing exports from the Indian Ocean and Pacific islands, reflecting depleted stocks in Southeast Asia, rising demand, improvements in transport, and the high value of traded fish. The estimated value of the live reef food fish trade was $810 million in 2002. A live reef food fish sells for approximately four to eight times more than a comparable dead fish, and can fetch up to $180 per kilogram for sought-after species like Napoleon wrasse or barramundi cod, making it a very lucrative industry for fishers and traders alike.
Despite this, the reefs are an important resource. Tourism on the Great Barrier Reef is a critical part of the region’s economy, generating US$5.2 billion in 2006.
Live reef fish imported for food in Hong Kong in 2008 were reportedly worth an average of nearly US$10/kg, while humphead wrasse, the most valuable species, were worth more than US$50/kg.
Estimating the economic value of coral reef-associated tourism typically focuses on its contributions to the economy, through tourist expenditures, adjusted for the operating costs of providing the service. A recent summary of 29 published studies on reef-associated tourism found a very wide range in values, from about US$2/ha/yr to US$1 million/ha/yr. However, most values fall within the narrower range of US$50/ ha/yr to US$1,000/ha/yr. The wide variation of values is strongly related to differences in the accessibility of places, with very low tourism values in remote locations that have limited tourism development and very high values in areas that have intensive tourism. For these reasons, it is not possible to undertake simple extrapolations of specific studies to entire reef tracts where demand and access may be very different.
Although many economic valuation studies have focused on estimating the benefits of coral reef ecosystem services, some studies have also focused on changes in value—that is, what an economy stands to lose if a reef is degraded. For example, the 2004 Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean study estimated that, by 2015, the projected degradation of Caribbean reefs from human activities such as overfishing and pollution could result in annual losses of US$95 million to US$140 million in net revenues from coral reef-associated fisheries, and US$100 million to US$300 million in reduced tourism revenue. In addition, degradation of reefs could lead to annual losses of US$140 million to US$420 million from reduced coastal protection within the next 50 years. Other studies estimate that Australia’s economy could lose US$2.2 billion to US$5.3 billion over the next 19 years due to global climate change degrading the Great Barrier Reef, while Indonesia could lose US$1.9 billion over 20 years due to overfishing.
There are numerous examples of economic analyses successfully informing policy. For example, in the United States, the states of Hawaii and Florida adopted legislation setting amounts for monetary penalties per square meter of damaged coral reef, based on calculations from valuation studies. The Belize government used an economic valuation study of its coral reefs as the premise to sue for damages after the container ship Westerhaven ran aground on its reef in January 2009, resulting in the Belizean Supreme Court ruling that the ship’s owners must pay the government US$6 million in damages. Finally, Bonaire National Marine Park, one of the world’s few self-financed marine parks, used economic valuation to determine appropriate user fees.
Sample Values: Annual Net Benefits from Coral Reef-related Goods and Services (US$, 2010)
Extent of Study                    Tourism                              Fisheries              Shoreline Protection
Global a                                $11.5 billion                         $6.8 billion                  $10.7 billion
Caribbean (Regional) b          $2.7 billion                         $395 million      $944 million to $2.8 billion
Philippines & Indonesia c       $258 million                           $2.2 billion                $782 million
Belize (National) d         $143.1 mill.-$186.5 mill.**   $13.8 mill.-$14.8 mill.** $127.2 to $190.8 mill.
Guam (National) e                $100.3 million**                     $4.2 million**             $8.9 million
Hawaii (Subnational) f           $371.3 million                         $3.0 million              Not evaluated
* All estimates have been converted to US$ 2010.
** Estimates of the value of coral reef-associated fisheries and tourism for Belize and Guam are gross values, while all other numbers in the table are net benefits, which take costs into account.
a. Cesar, H., L. Burke, and L. Pet-Soede.2003. The Economics of Worldwide Coral Reef Degradation. Zeist, Netherlands: Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting (CEEC).
b. Burke, L., and J. Maidens. 2004. Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean. Washington, DC: World Resource Institute.
c. Burke, L., E. Selig, and M. Spalding.2002. Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
d. Cooper, E., L. Burke, and N. Bood. 2008. Coastal Capital: Belize The Economic contribution of Belize’s coral reefs and mangroves. Washington, DC: World Resource Institute.
e. H aider, W. et al. 2007. The economic value of Guam’s coral reefs. Mangilao, Guam: University of Guam Marine Laboratory.
f. Cesar, H. 2002. The biodiversity benefits of coral reef ecosystems: Values and markets. Paris: OECD.

Find out more at:, online resources, including maps, data, regional fact sheets, videos, and more.  The full report is available free of charge at

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Press Release dated February 23, 2011

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