May042009
Reef Science Corner: Benefits/Ecosystem Services of Coral Reefs
Written by Dr. John Bruno

John Bruno kicks off another part of his Reef Science coral series, excerpting a modified version of an article he published last year on the Earth Portal about Coral Reefs and Climate Change. He covers global patterns of coral loss and several of the mechanisms through which anthropogenic climate change is contributing to this trend including coral bleaching, disease and ocean acidification.  Let him know know if there are particular topics you want to hear about.  You can reach him at jbruno@unc.edu.

Benefits/Ecosystem Services of Coral Reefs

When they are working properly, coral reefs provide human societies with massive economic benefits, aka ecosystem services, through fisheries, tourism and invaluable services like buffering from storms, estimated to be worth $23,100 - $270,000 km -2 year-1. 

By allowing reefs to become degraded, we are forfeiting a gigantic natural service, an opportunity cost that will have to be paid by diverting revenue from other sources.  Coral loss and reef degradation can have striking effects on local economies and family incomes.  After mass-bleaching and coral mortality of 1998, dive tourism in Zanzibar decreased by 20% and the snorkeling and glass bottom boat industry in Sri Lanka declined substantially. 

The annual loss in tourism dollars in the town of El Nido, Philippines was estimated to be US$ 1.5 million.  In other countries the impacts of bleaching on tourism and fisheries were far less severe and difficult to untangle from other trends including overfishing.  However, if some of the dire forecasts about climate change and coral reefs are accurate, it seems likely that millions of people will lose their livelihoods.  (Note: There is a great, if not depressing, video online about the loss of coral reef fisheries due to climate change.

Dr. John Bruno is a marine ecologist and conservation biologist.  He's also an associate professor in the Department of Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . His research is focused on understanding and conserving the structure and dynamics of marine communities.  Dr. Bruno works in a variety of marine habitats including coral reefs, coastal wetland and sand dune plant communities, oyster reefs and seagrass beds.  Read more of his work on The Climate Shifts blog, and check out the Bruno lab home page. 

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