We have a chance to save coral reefs

Coral reefs are home to over a quarter of all life in the ocean, and are a source of food, livelihoods, coastal protection, and cultural heritage for more than 500 million people.

As climate change causes our oceans to rapidly warm, destructive and excessive fishing and widespread water pollution threaten to degrade our most important marine ecosystems. If we don’t take action, scientists estimate that 90% of coral reefs may be lost by 2050, with dire consequences for the communities that they protect and provide for.

There are still healthy and functioning coral reefs left, and they need our help, now, to remain a vital source of food and biodiversity for people and the planet. Through strategic on-the-ground coral reef conservation informed by cutting-edge science and coupled with climate change interventions and national policy reform, we can safeguard the planet’s remaining coral reefs.

Our Approach to Coral Conservation

We are tackling this challenge from some of the most bioculturally important regions in the world: WCS works in 64 countries and across all of the world’s oceans, in partnership with local communities, Indigenous Peoples, and governments to secure the future of the world’s reefs. We work across biodiversity hotspots in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans that show resilience in the face of climate change.

90 percent

WCS helps protect 90% of the world’s coral species.

900 sites

Our scientists monitor the health of coral reefs at over 900 sites across the Caribbean, Western Indian Ocean, and Indo-Pacific.

This work won’t happen overnight, which is why we’re embedded on-the-ground for the long-term. We work hand in hand with local partners weaving together consensus-driven research and indigenous knowledge to co-create and advance shared conservation goals for coral reefs.

Coral reef conservation is complex work that crosses sectors, institutions, and borders. We work in four ways:

Achieving On-The-Ground Conservation

We forge trusting partnerships with governments and local communities to enable long-term, on-the-ground conservation interventions that are holistic and collaborative. Our science and monitoring work helps us continuously adapt and improve our work, keeping our programs grounded and locally relevant.

Driving Policy Change

We work closely with governments and other institutions to draft and advocate for science-based policies at the national and international levels. WCS is always at the table helping to amplify local voices and needs, as well as back out in the field when it’s time to do the hard work of turning policy into action.

Measuring Outcomes

WCS scientists conduct in-water monitoring to assess the health of reef ecosystems and the real-time impacts of conservation efforts. Using a suite of tools, we identify top threats to reefs and counter them with conservation interventions informed by our best science, turning our data into real-world impact.

Cutting-edge actionable science

WCS scientists are world leaders in coral reef ecology and conservation. We collaborate with on-the-ground partners to identify crucial scientific needs, lead research outputs and international working groups, and bring this information back to actionable policies. Our research is discovering new insights into the impacts of climate change, fishing, and water pollution on coral reefs, how governance is affected and supported by local communities, and the ecological thresholds of functioning coral reefs.

Special Projects and Partnerships

Water Pollution

Water pollution poses a significant threat to some of the Earth's most biodiversity-rich and fragile ecosystems—mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. These coastal ecosystems not only support a rich array of marine life but also play a vital role in safeguarding our climate resilience and the well-being of coastal communities. WCS is leading work all over the world to address the threat of water pollution, for communities and for our oceans.

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Bloomberg Ocean Initiative

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Bloomberg Ocean Initiative brings together world-class partners to ensure ocean ecosystems survive and thrive despite the growing threat of climate change. No one group or one country can solve the threats facing our oceans alone—WCS is proud to be one of the partners protecting critical ocean resources for the health and livelihood of over 3 billion people and countless marine species around the world. The Bloomberg Ocean Initiative has supported the protection of nearly 7 million square miles of ocean across the world. Read more about our work here.

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Photo Credit: ©Erika Pineros

Convention of Biological Diversity and Coral Reefs

With the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's existing global targets for biodiversity expiring in 2020, world leaders are planning to adopt a new global biodiversity framework, with new goals, targets and indicators, at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD CoP15) in Kunming, China in 2021. As CBD Parties negotiate a new ‘post-2020 global biodiversity framework,’ WCS is producing cutting-edge, policy-relevant science and practical recommendations around the critical need to include goals and targets focused on ecosystems and their integrity—especially to protect coral reefs—and supporting global efforts to protect or conserve at least 30% of land and sea areas by 2030.

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MACMON, Our Marine and Coastal Monitoring Framework

MACMON is a global monitoring framework for WCS that is one of the first applications of Nobel Prize Winner Elinor Ostrom’s social-ecological systems framework for management evaluation. MACMON’s indicators connect underwater surveys with social questionnaires to households and key experts involved in managing coastal areas to measure impacts of management for nature and people. MACMON is implemented in 7 countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and is connected to academic and policy impact through a Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) working group on Coastal Outcomes.

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MERMAID is the world’s first open-source coral reef data platform, designed in a partnership between WCS, WWF, and Sparkgeo to revolutionize coral reef data collection. Launched in 2020, MERMAID’s dashboard provides real-time data on coral reef health to help scientists and governments mobilize to protect reefs. The platform is a vital tool to help us track the health of reefs over time and assess the effectiveness of conservation work. To date, over 570 scientists across 10 countries have used MERMAID to input data from over 1,200 coral reefs.

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An Ambitious Agenda for Coral Reef Conservation

In the Media

Rare Climate Refuge For Coral Found

Off the coast of Kenya and Tanzania, scientists discovered a rare ocean refuge for coral reefs where species large and small still thrive despite accelerating climate change.

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We Can Save Coral Reefs

WCS's Alfred DeGemmis, Stacy Jupiter, Simon Cripps, and Emily Darling for Scientific American
Members of the International Coral Reef Initiative have agreed on the steps we must take. Now governments have to act.

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Rarest Corals are Not Currently Being Protected

A unique look at 27 years of data shows that uncommon coral types, important for reef biodiversity, have been insufficiently protected against climate change.

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Rare Bright Spot for Corals

Scientists discovered that a large area in the Indo-Pacific known as the “Coral Triangle” is surprisingly resistant to thermal stress from climate change

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A MERMAID Can Help Save Coral Reefs

By Emily Darling for Scientific American

New upgrades to a collaborative technology can turn coral reef data into conservation action—just when it’s needed most.

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Logging Tropical Forests Jeopardizes Fisheries

Logging activity in Solomon Islands is associated with lower coral cover and structural complexity on adjacent reefs.

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Study on Gender Inequality in Fisheries

Despite good intentions to make small-scale fisheries more equitable, current approaches are unlikely to ensure gender inclusion or address gender inequalities.

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How Global Coral Reef Conservation Is Adapting to COVID-19

Around the world, WCS field teams are adapting to the pandemic and changing the way that they work to better serve their communities.

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Study: Only 2.5% of the World’s Coral Reefs Are Protected

“A brewing crisis for tropical fisheries is emerging due to the lack of protection and the increasing impacts of climate change,” said WCS's Tim McClanahan.

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Access to Education and Markets Vital for Coastal Fishing Communities to Adapt

They can help mitigate acute vulnerabilities for communities struggling with poverty and reliant on ecosystems degraded by overfishing, a study shows.

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Marine Protected Areas: Essential but Not Sufficient

Their placement is critical to achieving conservation goals and that can help scientists and managers determine where to focus efforts.

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Tracking Coral Health in Real Time

The world’s first open-source coral reef conservation platform, MERMAID, lets you dive deep into the status of reefs around the world.

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