Degradation of coral reefs greatly affects communities that rely on them for a variety of ecosystem services. People depend on reefs as a source of food, money, and enjoyment. Over 100 million people depend directly on coral reefs for their survival; most live in developing countries. IUCN estimates that the effects of coral bleaching will amount to over $104 billion lost in the next 50 years (0.23% of the current global GDP). When coral reefs bleach, people are affected. The extent of the impact depends on the severity of a bleaching event. If there is a high level of mortality, the impacts will be greater. More detailed descriptions of these impacts are listed below:
- Coral reefs provide shoreline protection by buffering wave energy and reducing coastal erosion. When corals bleach, they are weakened and break up more easily when wave energy is higher, thus minimizing their buffering capacity.
- Loss of coral reefs means loss of critical habitat for reef fish. Studies have shown that declines in reef fish are directly linked to declines in coral communities. This means a reduction in fish catch for those fishermen targeting reef fish species, which negatively affects both food supply and associated economic activities.
- Degraded reefs draw fewer tourists than healthy reefs. Reefs that are lacking colorful and abundant marine life do not attract tourists, which can have effects on national scale, where countries or communities have tourism-based economies.
- Coral reefs are a valuable source of pharmaceutical compounds. Degraded and dead reefs can no longer serve as a source for important medicinal resources (i.e., drugs to treat heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses).
- Cultural values such as religious sites and traditional uses are very important but difficult to quantify. For more information check out the World Resources Institute’s Economic Valuation of Coral Reefs in the Caribbean.