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Healthy coral reefs are some of the most valuable ecosystems on the planet. They are among the oldest communities of life on Earth and take thousands of years to grow into the immense and complex habitats we see today.
Although they exhibit some of the characteristics of plants and are often mistaken for rocks, corals are animals. They are relatives of jellyfish and anemones.
As with many other types of animals, different species of coral are found in a variety of habitats in various locations around the world. There are more than 800 known species of reef-building coral worldwide and hundreds of species of soft corals and deep-sea corals, and this might only be the tip of the iceberg. Scientists estimate that there may be another one to nine million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs!
Coral–By the Numbers
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.
Top Three Threats to Coral
Climate change, rampant pollution, and destructive fishing practices are decimating corals faster than they can adapt and regenerate. Individually, each of these three top threats is devastating to corals; collectively they are a “perfect storm."
To address the complex nature of the threats that face deep-sea and shallow coral ecosystems, NOAA Fisheries works through the Coral Reef Conservation Program to:
- Preserve, sustain, and restore the condition of corals and the species that depend on them.
- Improve our understanding of the diversity, population, and biology of important coral species.
- Support management and research to promote sustainable use of coral reef resources for the benefit of local communities and the nation.
Coral plays an integral part in advancing medicine. From bone grafts to potential treatments for cancer, healthy corals and their associated species can sustain our lives–if we sustain theirs.