World Atlas of Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are among the oldest and most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. Often referred to as the ‘rainforests of the oceans’, they originally emerged more than 200 million years ago. Some types of corals living today evolved over 150 million years ago. These beautiful habitats host an extraordinary variety of marine plants and animals – a mere 100,000 species have been named and described out of estimated numbers of between 500,000 and 2 million.

Reefs have also become known as the world’s ‘miner’s canary’ because of their extreme sensitivity to small changes in their surroundings. The growth of mass-tourism, combined with the boom in popularity of scuba diving, has brought their plight to public attention across the planet.

Coral reefs provide essential fish habitat, support endangered and threatened species, and harbour protected marine mammals and turtles. They are a significant source of food for hundreds of millions of people, provide income and employment through tourism and marine recreation, and offer countless other benefits to humans, including supplying compounds for pharmaceuticals and protecting vulnerable coastlines from wave action and storms.

Yet coral reefs around the world are being degraded by a number of human activities including overfishing and blast-fishing, coastal development, and land-based run-off of sewage, fertilizers and sediments washed from deforested lands.

The World Atlas of Coral Reefs provides a detailed and definitive account of their current status; their geography and biodiversity; as well as human uses of coral reefs and details of the threats to their existence. This wealth of authoritative and up-to-date information is accompanied by 85 full-page meticulously researched colour maps and more than 200 colour photographs illustrating reefs, reef animals and images taken by NASA astronauts on recent space shuttles. The book also provides figures on a country-by-country basis of the extent of the world’s reefs, which of them are under threat, and which are seriously endangered. The full-colour World Atlas of Coral Reefs will be a crucial resource for anyone interested in these fragile environments.

Prepared at the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, United Kingdom – UNEP’s office responsible for providing authoritative information on the condition of global biodiversity – the Atlas is a critical tool for scientists, students, policy makers and planners at local, national and international levels alike. Its authors and cartographer, Dr. Mark Spalding, Corinna Ravilious and Dr. Edmund Green, have provided a benchmark for the international conservation initiatives on reefs at risk around the world.

World Atlas of Coral Reefs, supported by ICLARM, NASA, Aventis Foundation, PADI, Marine Aquarium Council, ICRI, and the Dulverton and Moore Family Foundations is published by University of California Press (ISBN 0-520-23255-0) at $45.00. To order a copy go to:


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Answering poor health | Tackling water poverty | Everything connects | Up the gross natural product | Stopping AIDS | Whose city is it anyway?| Nutrition | At a glance: Poverty | Competition | World Bank Special: ‘Double burden’ | It’s not just, pollution | Smoke and fires | Breaking the cycle of poison | Pharmacies for life | Viewpoint: Change – or decay | The environment: why we must not give up | World Atlas of Coral Reefs | GTOS: An eyeglass on our planet