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Healthy coral reefs, among the world’s most valuable ecosystems, depend on healthy corals. Coral reefs are among the largest and oldest communities of life on Earth.
Corals are animals, although they exhibit some of the characteristics of plants and are often mistaken for rocks. These animals are relatives of jellyfish and anemones.
Shallow and Deep Habitats
NOAA is discovering and documenting many new coral habitats and the species living there. While we know about thousands of hard and soft coral species, scientists estimate another one to nine million undiscovered species may be living in and around reefs. They are full of diversity.
Valuable Shallow Reefs
Shallow reefs exist in warm waters and provide habitat for nearly one-quarter of all ocean species. They are often closely connected with seagrass and mangrove habitats.
U.S. coral reef ecosystems provide an estimated $375 billion a year in economic and environmental services, such as food, protection for coasts, and tourism. Reef-supported tourism alone generates an estimated $30 billion a year.
Ancient Deep-Sea Communities
New technology is searching the darkness of the deep sea and revealing many surprises. Like their shallow-water counterparts, deep-sea corals and sponges form habitats that attract many other species. Much about them remains unknown, because only 5 percent of the deep sea has been explored.
Deep-sea corals are exceptional animals that can live for thousands of years and at depths of more than 10,000 feet.
Threats to Corals
Both shallow and deep-sea coral communities face increasing threats from humans. Climate change, pollution, and certain fishing practices are destroying corals faster than they can recover.
The complex, combined threats facing corals pose a huge problem. NOAA is working to conserve corals and their habitats through research, restoration, preservation, and collaboration from local to international levels.