US Coral Reefs in a Warming Ocean

Did you know?

  • The goods and services provided by coral reefs in Hawaii are valued at approximately $385 million each year.
  • Income losses associated with degraded reefs in the Caribbean are estimated to be several hundred million dollars each year.
  • Ocean acidity has increased by 30% since the Industrial Revolution, a rate that is approximately 50 times faster than the known historical change prior to this period.
  • From 1901 through 2014, average global sea surface temperatures rose at a rate of 0.13°F per decade.

Coral reefs, found in shallow tropical and subtropical waters, are a source of food and shelter for a large variety of organisms. In the United States, coral reefs can be found around the Florida Keys, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and other Pacific US territories. The reefs are economically important tourist attractions; they also protect against coastline erosion and provide sand for beaches.

As the oceans around the United States become warmer and more acidic due to greenhouse gas emissions, the health and survival of coral reef ecosystems are threatened. Warmer oceans lead to increased coral bleaching events and disease outbreaks, and acidification reduces coral growth and health. The figure below illustrates the estimated reduction in coral cover in Hawaii, the Florida Keys, and Puerto Rico under a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced in the future. 

What you can do

Coral reefs are very fragile ecosystems. Find out what you can do to help protect coral reefs by taking a "reef friendly" approach to sun protection.