So you live near a coral reef: Why experts say that’s not good news for reef conservation

Results of overfishing and bleaching on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, which is considered an “accessible” reef. Credit: Jorge Láscar.

Co-authored by Erica Cirino

My favorite beach on Long Island’s North Shore, where I live, is more than 700 miles away from the nearest coral reef (in Bermuda). This distance may be a good thing: Recent research suggests the further a coral reef is from human civilization, the better. (To get close from far away, check out these reef cams.)

Last month a global group of ocean researchers published a paper in Ecology Letters explaining the relationship between coral reefs’ proximity to people—measured in travel time to major marketplaces—and reef health. They write that the closer a reef is to a high-density human population center, the less likely large and diverse fish populations are likely to call it home. They found that fifty-eight percent of the world’s coral reefs are located within 30 minutes of a human settlement, and thus harmful human activities.

“There is substantial evidence from around the world that coral reefs are being degraded from human activities such as fishing, pollution and climate change,” says Dr. Joshua Cinner, a professorial research fellow at James Cook University in Australia and lead author of the paper.

Additionally, Cinner says, the more accessible a coral reef is to a population center, the less likely it is to be protected under strict marine conservation rules—and this isn’t good for anyone. “There are tens of millions of people who directly depend on reefs for their livelihoods, and many times that who depend on the fish that reef provide, the protection they offer shorelines and the cultural values they provide.

Results of overfishing and bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which is considered an “accessible” reef. Credit: Jorge Láscar.
The colorful, thriving coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is an example of an less “accessible” reef, thus it’s less —> Read More

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