Coral Reefs | Earth Day Network

What You Need to Know About Coral Reefs
and How You Can Help Protect Them

Coral reefs are found in more than 100 countries across the globe, covering close to 110,000 square miles worldwide, and are typically located in tropical and subtropical waters near the surface and sunlight. More than 25% of all marine life on the planet live in coral reefs across the globe, including the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, and just one reef has the capability to house thousands of different species. The world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, is home to 1,500 species of fish, including sharks and rays, as well as many different species of hard coral, soft coral, and various marine mammals. Twenty-five percent of coral reefs worldwide are already considered damaged beyond repair, and close to sixty-five percent of coral reefs are under serious threat.

Why We Need to Protect Coral Reefs

  • Coral reefs support an extraordinarily broad set of marine species and play a critical role in feeding and sheltering these species, as well as sheltering the offspring of large fish species until they can fend for themselves.
  • Corals are ancient animals with origins dating back hundreds of thousands of years.
  • Plants and animals that call coral reefs home are critical sources of new medicines, including those for Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
  • Coral reefs play a major role in industries ranging from eco-tourism to fisheries. They also protect shorelines from storms, which are increasing in intensity each year as a result of climate change.

Threats to Coral Reefs

  • Climate change is causing ocean acidification, which results in a decrease in pH that bleaches and kills coral reefs.
  • Bacteria, chemicals and other pollutants, including those from agriculture and untreated sewage threaten the health of coral reefs.
  • Overfishing, which includes the use of dynamite and other explosives used to kill fish, upsets the balance of marine life on the reef. Fishnets, plastics, and other marine debris are constant assaults to the reefs and their inhabitants.
  • Coastal development, dredging, and sedimentation all lead to reef habitat destruction.
  • Unsustainable tourism has led to the destruction of major parts of world-famous reefs. Threats from tourism include stepping and anchoring on reefs.
  • Chemicals such as oxybenzone in select sunscreens are harmful to coral.

What You Can Do to Help Protect Coral Reefs

  • Use sunscreens that are oxybenzone-free.
  • Sign our petition to remove the oxybenzone from sunscreen and use only oxybenzone-free sunscreens.
  • Recycle everything, regardless of where you live (even garbage from inland landfills can reach the ocean).
  • Stop using all chemical pesticides and fertilizers, regardless of whether you live close to the ocean. Check with your local organic gardening companies to find great alternatives to reef-killing chemicals.
  • Become a coral reef volunteer. Educate everyone you know on the importance of coral reefs. If you live near a coast, adopt a coral reef and participate in clean-ups.
  • If you dive or snorkel, make sure you avoid damaging corals in any way. Pledge never to take pieces of coral, step on or anchor on coral, and always dive with companies that pledge to protect the reefs.
  • Don’t buy coral or home aquarium fish unless you know they were legally and sustainably collected.
  • Conserve water to reduce runoff and wastewater that eventually ends up in our oceans.
  • Learn how to go green, protect the environment and fight global warming with 46 easy-to-follow tips.
  • Take personal steps to end plastic pollution.
  • Test your knowledge about threats to ocean ecosystems with our Oceans Plastic Pollution Quiz.
  • Take our pesticide pledge.