Why are coral reefs important?

Lots of colourful fish and corals on a reef © Andrea Izzotti/ Shutterstock

Coral reefs provide an important ecosystem for life underwater, protect coastal areas by reducing the power of waves hitting the coast, and provide a crucial source of income for millions of people.

Coral reefs teem with diverse life. Thousands of species can be found living on one reef. The Great Barrier Reef contains over 400 coral species, 1,500 fish species, 4,000 mollusc species and six of the world's seven sea turtle species. The Coral Triangle - a coral-rich marine region in Southeast Asia that encompasses the waters between Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea - is the most biologically diverse marine ecosystem on Earth. 

Coral reefs have an estimated global value of £6 trillion each year, due in part to their contribution to fishing and tourism industries and the coastal protection they provide.

More than 500 million people worldwide depend on reefs for food, jobs and coastal defence. The ridges in coral reefs act as barriers and can reduce wave energy by up to 97%, providing crucial protection from threats such as tsunamis. They help protect areas such as mangrove forests and seagrass beds that act as nurseries for marine animals, as well as human coastal populations.

Extracts from animals and plants living on reefs have been used to develop treatments for asthma, arthritis, cancer and heart disease.

Explore the risks facing coral reefs.

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Coral reefs are more than just colourful underwater scenery. Discover more in this animated infographic.
We explored the wonders of these underwater structures in our exhibition Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea (March - September 2015)

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