Figures released today on international financial support being given to protect and sustainably manage the world’s coral reefs reveal funding contributions are not only inadequate, but disproportionate to how much the fragile ecosystems offer humans in food, livelihoods, medicine and environmental protection.
Coral reef ecosystems provide society with resources and services worth $375 billion per year. They house 25 percent of all marine life, feeding hundreds of millions of people; they enable discovery of new pharmaceuticals and provide work and income through the tourism and fisheries industries.
Yet we have lost at least one fifth of the world’s coral reefs, with some estimates placing the loss of live coral as high as 50 per cent. These vital ecosystems are being rapidly degraded as a result of warming sea temperatures due to climate change, overfishing, destructive fishing, ocean acidification, and a range of land-based activities. A recent study in the Asia-Pacific region also found that coral reefs are contaminated by 11 billion pieces of plastic, which are leading to coral disease.
The coral reef funding analysis, conducted by UN Environment, the International Coral Reef Initiative and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, found that in the 83 countries surveyed, there was an increase in funding between 2010 and 2016 in response to global and regional policy commitments on environmental management and protection, but that the more than $1.9 billion currently being invested is not commensurate with the economic and social gains we make from coral reefs.
The value of a single hectare of coral reef in terms of tourism, shoreline protection and fisheries is, on average, $130,000 per year, and as much as $1.25 million where the tourism sector is large. Travel and tourism, much of it dependent on reefs, contribute a third of the GDP in the Caribbean for example, and as much as 80 percent in the Maldives.
Coastal fisheries supported by coral reefs contribute to food security of hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers, providing 70 per cent of the dietary protein of Pacific islanders. Coral reef organisms are a source of many medicines, such as antiviral drugs and the anticancer agent Ara-C used in chemotherapy for leukemia and lymphoma.
The analysis reveals annual investment in maintaining healthy reefs through overseas development assistance is only 0.07 percent of the value of the societal benefits we draw from them. And of this investment, the majority of funding for work related to coral reefs and associated ecosystems is driven by a small number of funders, with nearly three-quarters of all projects consisting of small-scale initiatives.
Funded projects for coral reefs and associated ecosystems were identified in a total of 83 countries and territories, out of more than 100 countries and territories where tropical corals are known to exist. Some countries with a large coral reef area were found to be receiving comparatively low amounts of donor funding per unit area of reef. Out of the 314 projects surveyed, 279 focused on a single country – Tuvalu.
Funding is essential for sustainable management of coral reefs and associated ecosystems worldwide. But greater consideration of these ecosystems as blue economy assets is required, both in the public and private sector, to enable more and more diverse investment, and in the longer term reduce reliance on donor funding.
“If greater action is not taken today, the planet could lose its live coral reefs and with them a large number of the world’s marine species by 2050,” said Gabriel Grimsditch of UN Environment’s Marine and Coastal Ecosystems Branch.
“The necessary change will only be possible when mindsets change, in the general public, among financial decision makers, and also in the environment sector.”
The Funding Analysis was conducted by UN Environment, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and was funded by the Government of France.
2018: The International Year of the Reef
The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) has declared 2018 the International Year of the Reef. UN Environment together with partner organizations is helping to drive a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and threats to their sustainability, and to motivate people to take action to protect them. All individuals, corporations, schools, governments, and organizations are welcome and actively encouraged to participate in IYOR 2018.