Melinda Kimble
stresses the importance of conserving coral reefs and reports on a new initiative to do so

Coral reefs are among the world’s most spectacular underwater environments. Often called ‘rainforests of the sea’, these natural wonders are complex ecosystems supporting a remarkable diversity of life – plant, animal and human.

Although coral reefs cover less than 1 per cent of the ocean floor, they are home to over 93,000 plant and animal species, and sustain more than 35 per cent of marine species in shallow ocean waters. Remarkably, marine scientists estimate that in excess of a million coral reef species remain to be identified. These undiscovered species may hold the key to medical advances in the treatment and cure of widespread diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Coral reefs also play an important role in sustaining local communities. In more than 80 developing countries, countless communities rely heavily on them for income security and nutritional sustenance. In fact, 20 per cent of the world’s population relies mainly on them for food. One square kilometre of healthy coral reef can produce 15 tonnes of food per year – enough for more than 1,000 people. Sustaining the health of the reefs is therefore critical to sustaining these communities.

Income and employment
Healthy coral reefs also have significant value for local economies. Their captivating beauty can sustain a growing and increasingly diverse tourism market that has the power to generate income and create employment opportunities. Specifically, sustainable tourism can create a marine and coastal environment in which coral reefs can thrive and local communities benefit from their revenue-generating resources.
20 per cent of the world’s population relies mainly on coral reefs for food
Unfortunately, pollution, destructive and non-sustainable fishing techniques, coastal development, the souvenir trade and other threats are taking their toll on the reefs and the people who depend upon them. Although they have coped with changes in the global environment for millions of years, their capacity to continue doing so is now seriously threatened by these human impacts. As a result, 60 per cent of the world’s coral reefs have been seriously damaged or completely destroyed.

In response to these threats, the United Nations Foundation and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) – in which UNEP plays a prominent part – launched the Coral Reef Fund in May 2003 to help protect and manage the 285,000 square kilometres of coral reef around the world, all of which are damaged or in some way threatened. Established in 2000, ICRAN is a global partnership of coral reef experts working to halt and reverse the decline in the health of the world’s coral reefs.

Environmental responsibility
Working with local and indigenous communities, ICRAN will promote environmentally responsible activities near reefs, including eco-friendly tourism and sustainable marine fishing, and will also provide funding to monitor threatened reefs. With moneys raised through the Coral Reef Fund, ICRAN will continue to promote opportunities for creating jobs, training and educating communities, and exchanging ideas and knowledge on reef management to ensure the future of these ecosystems.

The UN Foundation, with ICRAN, launched the fund with a $250,000 contribution from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, which the Foundation has matched. The UN Foundation will match any additional contributions over $250,000 made by other funders, including individuals, foundations, corporations, government agencies and non-governmental organizations

Melinda Kimble is Vice President for Program of the United Nations Foundation.

PHOTOGRAPH: Reichling/UNEP/Topham

Visit The website provides visitors with more information on the global status of reefs, links to partner organizations, an online donation mechanism, and a list of ten ways to protect coral reefs.

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Biological backbone | Benefits beyond boundaries | Common inheritance | Beauty or beast? | Wonders of the world | Protecting heritage | People | Parks and participation | At a glance: Protected Areas | Profile: Harrison Ford | Scorecard, catalyst, watershed | Coral Reef Fund | Coral jewels | Reef knots | Brief window for biodiversity | Books & products | Conservation amid conflict | News | Green, red or black? | Keeping faith with nature | Make parks not war

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on WSSD, 2002
Issue on Biological Diversity, 2000
Issue on Culture, Values and the Environment, 1996

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment: