Coral reefs provide a home to about 25 per cent of all marine species and are the most diverse of all the planet’s ecosystems, rivalling the diversity found in the Amazon rainforest. Estimates suggest that up to two million different types of animals thrive within or around coral reefs. Millions of people depend on that biodiversity for their livelihoods and food security.
Coral reefs are also one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world, acting as a barometer for global warming. For example, just a small rise in the temperature of the oceans will cause coral reefs to bleach and potentially die if the higher temperature is sustained.
Urgent action is needed to protect these vibrant underwater habitats from the effects of climate change, pollution, overfishing and other problems caused by people – such as cyanide fishing, coral mining and poor tourism practices.
Some 250 million people – many in small island states and developing countries – depend directly on coral reefs for food and income, making them particularly vulnerable to their loss. Coral reefs also provide vital protection to low-lying communities at risk from coastal flooding.
Experts say the decline of these precious underwater ecosystems can be prevented. It might be possible to regenerate them – as long as the commitment to do so starts now – to ensure they can be enjoyed by future generations.
of global tropical coral reefs occur within Commonwealth jurisdictions
Coastal ecosystems play a vital role in many Commonwealth countries, by supporting tourism, food security and recreation, and by providing coastal protection from storms. However, for a variety of reasons, most shallow coral reefs have become degraded. Active interventions to aid their recovery are necessary.
Australia, Belize and Mauritius are co-championing the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Coral Reef Protection and Restoration. This Action Group will highlight good practices in the restoration of coral reefs. Each champion is bringing relevant expertise and experience to the Action Group, to be shared and developed with interested member countries. It will be a platform to promote collaborative research, workshops and seminars, showcasing successful case studies among the Commonwealth.
of the world’s reefs have already suffered irreversible damage
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef system in the world
Covering less than 1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs support an estimated 25% of all marine life
One square kilometre of healthy, well-managed coral reef can provide more than 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood each year
Fragments of Hope – Community-Led Coral Reef Restoration, Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Belize
Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP) was declared in 1994 and is one of seven protected areas making up the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage Site. While the land area is just 1.4 acres, the marine component of the park is 4,095 hectares. This protected area is one of the best examples of the unique type of atoll formation in the Caribbean.
LBCNP provides significant social and economic benefits to the local society. It is an important tourism resource, with over 10,000 visitors per year, given its proximity to Placencia Village just 11 miles away, and it provides sheltered snorkeling sites. In 2017, the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University valued LBCNP at almost US$5million/year (Nawaz et al., 2017). Because the site has no fishing allowed, it harbours good populations of conch, lobster and finfish, which then spill into local fishing areas.
Fragments of Hope (FOH) is a non-profit community based organisation that was formally established in 2013; FOH focuses on the restoration of coral reef habitats and advocacy for sustainable management of associated habitats. LBCNP was the first restoration site in Belize (2006) by FOH and is considered by most experts the best example of reef restoration in the Caribbean.
Master Reef Guides Programme, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The Master Reef Guides programme was launched in 2019. It builds the capacity of tourism staff working on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia, to provide an appealing industry- and government-recognised qualification. Master Reef Guides pass through a comprehensive selection and training process.
Coral reef tourism contributes $36 billion to the global tourism industry annually. Irresponsible reef tourism can put great pressure on coral health. However, responsible and informed operators can help educate and inform tourists, providing a more impactful, value-added experience with increased awareness.
This case study describes one programme that is demonstrating success in contributing to the management and conservation objectives of the Great Barrier Reef, and that could be of interest for application in other regions.
- International Coral Reef Initiative
- Rust can damage reefs
- ‘Protecting coral reefs’
- Diverse nature of reefs
- Coral reefs facts
- UN Environment Programme (UNEP), ‘Coral reef conservation and restoration’
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Global coral reef bleaching monitoring
- Coral reefs are in trouble