Coral Reefs Are in Danger

What is going on?

The oceans are under pressure worldwide: climate change, pollution, overfishing and many more. In the last 30 years, almost half of all coral has disappeared. If we continue like this, in 30 years we may have lost our coral reefs.

In recent years, the health of reefs worldwide has deteriorated rapidly. Climate change is the biggest threat to coral. One of the consequences is  global warming, the seawater is getting warmer. An increase of only a few degrees can cause coral to die. But an increase in storms, drought, ocean acidification, all as a result of a changing climate, also impacts coral reefs. Humans also pose other threats, such as overfishing and fishing with fireworks. Fish are very important to the reefs. They keep the coral neatly clean by eating algae off of the coral. If grazers disappear from the reef, un-eaten, fast-growing algae smother the coral and kill it. If we keep up unsustainable fishing and the sea becomes emptier and emptier, the quality of the coral will also deteriorate. Unfortunately, nets, fish traps, and other fishing gear that fishers use can also destroy coral.

Water pollution is also a big threat to coral. It is very fragile and can die if it comes into contact with polluted water or waste. And right now, a huge amount of plastic, sewage, and wastewater ends up in the oceans every day. On top of that, corals are adapted to live in nutrient poor water, so adding extra nutrients by allowing wastewater to run into the sea again stimulates the much faster growing algae to smother the reef.

Corals in Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

Coral reef. © Casper Douma / WWF-NL

Why is it important to protect coral?

Coral is a collective name for very small sea creatures. These sea creatures are also called polyps and often live in colonies. These colonies make up the coral, such as brain coral or fan coral. All these corals together form a coral reef. Coral reefs are shelters and nurseries for marine animals, so they contribute to biodiversity and, for example, more fish. Coral reefs purify the water and they are excellent coastal protectors against extreme weather, for example.

Some fish live in the open sea when they are adults but come specifically to the coral reef to reproduce. The young fish can grow up safely there. When they are big enough, they leave for the open sea. In turn, they will return to the reef when they need to safely deposit their eggs. Without coral reefs, many other animal species will disappear as well.

WWF is working on solutions like sustainable fishing and no fishing zones together with fishers and governments. In other words, areas where fishing is not allowed at all. In the Dutch Caribbean, WWF is currently working on solutions for a wastewater system. As a result, there will be no more dirty waste water in the sea.

WWF has projects worldwide to protect coral reefs, working together with the local population. Coral reefs have been protected in a lot of areas, called Marine Protected Areas, such as in Australia and around many Caribbean islands. Read more about another WWF project to protect corals: The Coral Reef Rescue Initiative.

Coral Reef in Bonaire. © WWF-NL / Pieter de Groot

The Coral Reef

A coral reef is a nature reserve, just like a forest. Just as you cannot have a forest without trees, a coral reef cannot exist without coral. Everyone knows what a tree is. But what is coral?

Corals are not plants or rocks, but tiny animals. These animals, also called polyps, together make a ‘house’ out of limestone, which often grows very slowly. Numerous corals together begin to form a coral reef. Countless sea creatures live here. Corals exist in an unimaginable number of shapes and sizes. Some are branched like antlers, others form sprawling mats; still others are mushroom-shaped or leaf-like. And in addition to the well-known hard corals, there are also soft ones. The flow of the ocean current and especially light influence the shape of corals.

A Paradise For Animals

Nearly a quarter of all fish and other sea creatures live around, in or off coral reefs. They find their food here and use the nooks, crannies and alleys to lay eggs safely or to hide from predators.

A Lot of Food for People

Hundreds of millions of people are directly dependent on healthy coral reefs. They fish on coral reefs for their dinner every day.

Natural Protector

Large waves can cause considerable damage to our coasts. Healthy coral reefs ensure that waves are slowed down under water, up to 97%!

The Wow Factor

Healthy coral reefs attract millions of snorkelers and divers from all over the world every year.


Coral and fishes in Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean
Corals in Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean
Fish and coral in Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

Historic reefs

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