Coral Reef Risk Outlook

Coral Reef Risk Outlook thumbnail


From tourism to disease prevention, it’s clear that reefs offer much more than recreation. According to the newly released Reefs at Risk Revisited report, coral reefs:

  • Support more than 275 million people worldwide.
  • Protect coastlines in more than 100 countries - helping defend against storms and erosion.
  • Accounts for 15% of gross domestic product in more than 20 countries.
  • Hold the potential to fight disease - including treatments for cancer, HIV, malaria, and other diseases.

Yet coral reefs today face serious threats. The new report finds that approximately 75% of world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by local and global pressures. Local pressures pose the most immediate threat - especially from overfishing and destructive fishing, which is particularly widespread in Southeast Asia. Global threats from climate change and alterations in ocean chemistry (i.e. ocean acidification) are compounding the pressures on reefs. Climate change is causing ocean temperatures to rise, which, in turn, is leading to wide-spread coral bleaching.

This dataset for SOS looks at the present state of coral reefs and then into the future. The present image shows the threat category for coral reefs due to local activities such as overfishing and destructive fishing, marine-based pollution, coastal development, and watershed-based pollution. The projected images in 2030 and 2050 show local threats combined with projections of thermal stress and ocean acidification using a "business as usual" greenhouse gas emissions scenario. According to the report, left unchecked, combined local and global pressures will push 90 percent of coral reefs to threatened status (all non-blue colors) in less than 20 years (by 2030) and nearly all reefs will be threatened by 2050.

Image Details
Reefs are assigned their threat category from the integrated local threat index as a starting point. Threat is raised one level if reefs are at high threat from either thermal stress or ocean acidification, or if they are at medium threat for both. If reefs are at high threat for both thermal stress and acidification, the threat classification is increased by two levels. The analysis assumes no increase in future local pressure on reefs, and no reduction in local threats due to improvements in management.

Color Bar for Reef Risk

Notable Features

  • At present, local human activities, coupled with past thermal stress, threaten an estimated 75 percent of the world’s reefs.
  • By 2030, estimates predict more than 90% of the world’s reefs will be threatened by local human activities, warming, and acidification, with nearly 60% facing high, very high, or critical threat levels.
  • By 2050, estimates predict nearly all of the reefs will be threatened, with 75% facing high, very high, or critical threat levels.