Half a billion people, that's 8% of the world's population, are heavily dependent on reefs for their goods and services which include food, coastal protection, building materials and income from tourism, and 30 million are entirely dependent on reefs.
Coral reefs supply about 10% of the marine fisheries landings and are a critical area for breeding, spawning and the early life stages and feeding of many marine species. This rich complex system is also a fertile source of pharmaceutical products which as yet is largely untapped. Reefs are estimated to be worth US$172 – 375 billion per annum and this is probably underestimated as many benefits of coral reefs pass through non-market economies, such as cycling of nitrogen and carbon, and creation of favourable conditions for other ecosystems e.g. seagrasses.
The economic worth of coral reefs is not the only value that should be considered. The cultural significance of coral reefs to coastal communities across the world is also hugely important. While the demise of coral reefs will have knock-on effects to other reef-associated ecosystems and species such as sea grass beds, mangroves, marine reptiles, seabirds, pelagic ecosystems, and estuarine habitats. The extinction of coral reefs would mean the loss of a large part of the Earth's total biodiversity.