6 of the World’s Most Endangered Coral Reefs

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on August 4, 2013. Enjoy!

Coral reefs serve as a “canary in the coal mine” for the health of our planet. As land dwellers, we can’t see or feel the effects of climate change and other detrimental forces at work in the ocean, but coral reefs can.

And, unfortunately, the ongoing changes occurring in the world’s most important reef ecosystems suggest that something is terribly wrong.

Most recently under threat are the reefs protected by the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument:

But the following six coral reef ecosystems also face grave threats — largely from human activity.

1. The Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Photo Credit: Paul Toogood/Flickr

The Great Barrier Reef has already experienced a 50 percent decline in coral cover over the last 27 years, in large part due to nutrient runoff from the coasts. But recently, an even more outrageous threat has surfaced.

According to Scientific American, there are six coal export-related development or expansion proposals under assessment by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. It seems that Australia’s coal industry wants to build a series of ports adjacent to the reef, to expedite the exportation of their toxic product. To do so would mean “dredging and dumping of 113 million cubic meters of seabed for ports and up to 10,000 coal ships crossing the reef every year” — an act that would be fatal to the reef.

2. Southeast Asian Coral Reefs

The ocean — particularly the fish and other seafood it offers — has always been very important to Southeast Asian culture. Unfortunately, sustainable fishing has only recently become part of the discussion, an oversight that has put the region’s nearly 100,000 square kilometers of coral reefs — almost 34 percent of the world total — in grave danger.

“Human activities now threaten an estimated 88 percent of Southeast Asia’s coral reefs, jeopardizing their biological and economic value to society. For 50 percent of these reefs, the level of threat is ‘high’ or ‘very high.’ Only 12 percent of reefs are at low risk,” explains the World Resources Institute .

3. Sri Lankan Coral Reefs

But overfishing isn’t the only human activity that has a negative impact on coral reefs. In the Indian Ocean, many reefs have been strip-mined for use as a cheap building material. “The coral is then processed and used in construction materials, most frequently building blocks and a lime plaster very popular with native builders,” explains this TED Case Study.

4. Caribbean Coral Reefs

Nearly two-thirds of coral reefs in the Caribbean are threatened by human activities, such as coastal development. As a popular tourist destination, the Caribbean reefs are also greatly threatened by waste from cruise ships, tankers and yachts that is discharged directly into the water. “In addition, coral bleaching episodes-the most direct evidence of stress from global climate change on Caribbean marine biodiversity-are on the rise,” reports WRI.

5. Kingman Reef

Located about 1,000 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, Kingman Reef is an uninhabited, barren, coral atoll with a deep lagoon. “It became a U.S. naval reservation in 1934. Pan American Airways used the lagoon just before World War II as a station for seaplanes flying between Hawaii and Samoa,” reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A 2008 study of the Kingman Reef and surrounding islands/atolls found many threats, including the residual impacts of guano mining, WWII-era military construction, coral bleaching and invasive species.

6. Florida’s Coral Reefs

“Monitoring data from 105 stations in the Florida Keys has revealed a 44 percent decline in coral cover from 1996-2005,” reports the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In addition to the devastating effects of fishing and marine tourism, Florida’s reefs suffer the consequences of that state’s unsustainable population growth.

Large coastal infrastructure projects, such as the installation of pipes, cables and wastewater outfalls for public utilities, have contributed to shoreline erosion and damaged coral habitat through water pollution.

“Beach nourishment projects, in which large volumes of sand are re-located from offshore to onshore, can cause severe impacts to reefs. Coral reef organisms may be smothered by sediments and reduced water clarity deprives corals of the light they require for photosynthesis by their symbiotic algae,” explains the Florida DEP.

And, sadly, the loss of a beautiful and unique ecosystem isn’t the only cost we’ll pay for destroying coral reefs. Scroll through the infographic below to see what we’ll really lose if we lose the coral reefs.

The Real Costs of Coral Reef Loss
Infographic via Visual.ly

Photo Credit: Kyle Taylor/Flickr


One Heart i
One Heart inc1 months ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 months ago

They are beautiful.

Matt B
Matt B4 months ago

The reefs are so beautiful and filled with as much if not more life than rainforests. I've heard they have found possibly hundreds of different species of life within a square meter of coral. If, or sadly when, they die, so does much of the ocean ecosystem. It is heartbreaking to see these great wonders dying but humans will have enjoyed themselves with all their dirty luxuries. I guess that's all the matters in the end, since they are bringing about the end of so much beautiful life on this planet as they achieve and compete to consume the resources of Mother Earth.

Margie F
Margie FOURIE4 months ago

I love the Kingman coral, but for how much longer will these be available to us?

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D4 months ago

This is a very informative but sad article. Not a good way to end the day... :(

Carl R
Carl R4 months ago


bob Petermann
bob P4 months ago

Very interesting post thanks

Ulrich D
Ulrich D4 months ago

Intact coral reefs are extremely important for breading many many kinds of species, incl. fish. Urgently we need to preserve our planet, incl. the sea.

Sonia M

Interesting post thanks for sharing

Mona M
Mona M4 months ago

Thanks for making this great infographic and let's believe that the infinite resilience and super powers of our earth win the battle over human stupidity, ignorance and higher skills for destruction than for re-creation.