Corals are essential to human well-being

Coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. Occurring in more than 100 countries and territories, warm coral reefs and cold water corals are vital to human well-being, providing food security, livelihoods and economic opportunities, and coastal protection for at least 500 million people across the world.

Across more than 70,000 km of coral reef coastlines, living reefs reduce the expected damages from storms by more than US$4 billion every year and lower the number of people affected by flooding each year by 45%. Most coral reefs are located in low-income countries. The value of goods and services provided by coral reefs is estimated at US$2.7 trillion per year (more than the annual GDP of the United Kingdom), including US$36 billion per year in coral reef-related tourism and US$6.8 billion in annual net profits from global fisheries.

How corals benefit us



Corals support the livelihoods of 500 million people directly.

Coral reef-related tourism produces US $36 billion per year.

Reduce expected storm damages by more than US $4 billion annually.

Lower the total number of people affected by flooding by 45% annually.

Total economic goods and services: about US $2.7 trillion per year.



Corals cover 0.2% of the ocean floor but support at least 25% of all marine species.

Shelter an estimated 32% of all named marine species.

Total ecosystem services: nearly US $10 trillion per year (almost equal to the annual GDP of China).


Total benefit

US $12.7 trillion per year.
(Over 15% of worldwide annual GDP).

Corals are high-powered ecological engines

In terms of ecological productivity, corals are even more impressive—they are the workhorses of the oceans. Although they cover only 0.2% of the seafloor, corals support at least 25% of marine species, making them essential to maintaining the Earth’s biodiversity. Corals and reefs create habitats that harbor an estimated 32% of all named marine species. Coral reefs are also rich with symbiotic relationships among species, honed by millions of years of evolution. Healthy and intact corals and reefs provide critical ecosystem services that amount to an equivalent of nearly US$10 trillion per year. That’s slightly less than the annual GDP of China.

As is true for many ecosystems, the environmental and human benefits provided by corals and reefs are tied together and hard to separate. For instance, the biodiversity corals support also provide humans with food and economic livelihoods. And it is almost certain that we don’t know the full extent of how much they may benefit us. For example, many reef organisms produce potent biochemical compounds. A number of antiviral and anticancer drugs, including the very first marine-derived drug, Cytarabine (a chemotherapy medication for leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), are derived from coral reefs.


Burke, L., K. Reytar, M. Spalding, and A. Perry. 2011. Reefs at risk revisited. World Resources
Institute, Washington, DC, USA.

G20 Environment Ministers Communiqué. Virtual Meeting – September 16, 2020. Communiqué. [Paper]

Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2020 Report. GCRMN, ICRI, Australian Government, and Australian Institute of Marine Science. [Report]

UN SDG 14. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021. [Infographic]

Rebuilding Coral Reefs. A Decadal Grand Challenge. ICRS Science to Policy Paper 2021. [Paper]

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