Press Releases - January 2006 - Corals and Mangroves in the Front Line - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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Corals and Mangroves in the Front Line

Economic Case for Conservation of Corals and Mangroves Made in New UN Environment Report

PARIS/NAIROBI, 24 January 2006 – The economic value and life saving function of coral reefs and mangroves is brought into sharp focus in a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report underlines the vital role these natural features play in tourism, stemming coastal erosion and acting as nurseries for fish including those in the multi-million dollar aquaria trade.

The report recognises that corals and mangroves absorb up to 90 per cent of the energy of wind-generated waves.

It is also underlines that conserving them is a small price to pay when set against the costs of destroying them or substituting their role with man-made structures.

The report says

• The value of coral reefs is estimated at between US$100,000 to US$600,000 per square kilometer a year.

• The estimated costs of protecting them, through the management costs of a marine protected area, is just US$775 square kilometers per annum.

• The costs of installing artificial breakwaters made of concrete tetrapods around the Male, Maldives, was US$10 million per kilometer. This was done following the degradation of the natural reef

• In Indonesia, a hotel in West Lombok has spent an average of US$125,000 per annum over seven years restoring its 250 metre-long beach following erosion as a result of offshore coral mining.

These are among the findings from “In the Front Line: Shoreline Protection and other Ecosystem Services from Mangroves and Coral Reefs”.

It has been produced by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in collaboration with the International Coral Reef Action Network and IUCN-the World Conservation Union.

The study gives a stark reminder of how coral reefs and mangroves are fast disappearing.

Close to a third of corals have gone, with 60 per cent expected to be lost by 2030. More than a third of all mangroves have disappeared, with the rate of loss greater than that of tropical rainforests.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said: “Day in and day out and across the oceans and seas of the world nature is working to generate incomes and livelihoods for millions if not billions of people”.

“The tragedy of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 brought into sharp focus the debate about the life saving qualities of healthy reefs and mangroves. But this report goes further, underlining that their economic, cultural and social importance stretches far beyond such extreme events," he added.

“I hope the financial facts contained in this study will radically change the attitude and behaviour of governments, industry, local authorities and individuals, so that they better prize and conserve these natural assets. So that they think twice about the pollution, climate change, insensitive development and other damaging practices that are rapidly undermining the economic basis for so many coastal communities world-wide,” said Mr Toepfer.

Jon Hutton, the incoming director of UNEP-WCMC, added that “this study is important because it not only gives tangible values for nature’s services, it also illustrates the critical importance of data collection, storage and analysis that UNEP undertakes on behalf of the world”.

The report is launched in advance of the 9th Special Session of UNEP’s Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum scheduled to take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in early February.

Here environment ministers from across the world will discuss the key issues of energy and tourism, both of which directly or indirectly link to ecosystem services like coral reefs and mangroves.

Valuing Coral Reefs and Coastal Mangroves

Experts are now coming to grips with the value of the goods and services that corals and mangroves provide, building on such pioneering studies as last year’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

The new report stresses that the economics of ecosystem services are still in their infancy and that estimates may even underplay the true value.

But it adds that studies to date show that most benefits from coral reefs and mangroves arise from fisheries, timber and fuelwood, tourism and shore protection.

The report also stresses that national figures vary considerably and that different services generated by these ecosystems can have sharply differing values.

Nevertheless the total economic value of reefs is estimated at between US$100,000 and US$600,000 per square kilometer per year, with mangroves priced at more than $900,000 per square kilometer per year.

In Indonesia, where tourism is the main use, reefs are estimated to be worth US$1 million per square kilometer, based on the cost of maintaining sandy beaches.

Similar values have been obtained for the Caribbean, varying from "US$2,000 to US$1 million, with the highest values in areas heavily dependent for tourism,” says the report.

In American Samoa, researchers calculate that mangroves there are worth just over US$100,000 per square kilometer equivalent to US$50 million a year. In Thailand, the figure is even higher with mangroves estimated to be worth up to US$3.5 million per square kilometer.

Shoreline Protection

The ability of coral reefs to buffer the coast from waves and storms varies from location to location and depends on the reef’s physical shape and size.

Nevertheless the report estimates that a typical coral reef can absorb up to 90 per cent of a wave’s force thus protecting the shore and infrastructure from erosion and damage.

Studies from Sri Lanka indicate that one square kilometer of coral reef prevents 2,000 cubic metres of coastal erosion annually, says the report.

“Mangroves dissipate the energy and size of waves as a result of the drag forces exerted by their multiple roots and stems. Wave energy may be reduced by 75 per cent in the wave’s passage through 200 metres of mangrove,” it adds.

From Fisheries up to the Aquarium Trade -- Other Key Goods and Services

Of the estimated 30 million small-scale fishers in the developing world, most are dependent to a greater or lesser extent on coral reefs.

In the Philippines, for example, more than one million small-scale fishers depend directly on coral reefs for their livelihoods.

The report estimates that reef fisheries are worth between US$15,000 and US$150,000 per square kilometer a year. This is often in areas of the world where many people live on less than one to two dollars a day.

In South-East Asia, reef fisheries generate almost US$2.5 billion annually and in the Caribbean, US$310 million a year.

Overall, reef fish may account for a quarter of the global fish catch, providing food for one billion people.

An estimated 1.5 to two million people in Europe and North America have aquaria and a large proportion of the fish and other marine life that supply this trade come from coral reefs.

The report estimates that Sri Lanka, for example, is earning just over US$5.5 million a year in such exports, supporting around 50,000 people.

“The high-value, low-volume nature of the aquarium trade means that it could provide a livelihood for many people if carefully managed. A kilo of aquarium fish was worth nearly US$500 in 2002 compared with a kilo of food fish which sold for about US$6,” says the report.

Mangroves are also important for fisheries. An estimated 75 per cent of commercially caught prawns in Queensland, Australia, depend on mangroves.

A 400 square kilometer managed mangrove forest in Matang, Malaysia, supports a fishery worth US$100 million a year.

The Matang mangroves also generate further income providing forestry products worth US$10 million a year.

Marine organisms often contain pharmaceutically active compounds. Reef organisms have so far provided an anticancer agent and show great promise for the treatment of HIV.

In 2000, net annual benefits from diver tourism in the Caribbean amounted to just over US$2 billion with US$625 million spent directly on diving on reefs.

Notes to Editors

The full report - “In the Front Line: Shoreline Protection and other Ecosystem Services from Mangroves and Coral Reefs”, is available online at It is also available through IUCN and Earthprint, priced US$25.

Details and documents relating to the 9th Special Session of UNEP’s Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum can be found at

The Third Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands: Moving the Global Oceans Agenda Forward is taking place 23-28 January 2006, at UNESCO in Paris. It will look at the obstacles faced in the implementation of international targets on oceans, coasts and small island developing states. Details are available at

Details of the organizations who have collaborated on this report can be found at;;

For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 62 3084; Mobile: +254 733 632 755, E-mail: or Robert Bisset, UNEP Spokesperson for Europe on Tel: 33 1 44377613, Mobile: 33 6 22725842, E-mail:

If there is no prompt response, please contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Information Officer, on Tel: 254 20 623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, E-mail:

UNEP News Release 2006/05




Further Resources

In the Front Line: Shoreline Protection and other Ecosystem Services from Mangroves and Coral Reefs
Download the report [PDF]

World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP - WCMC)

International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN)

World Conservation Union (IUCN)

Third Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands
Moving the Global Oceans Agenda Forward
23-28 January 2006, UNESCO, Paris

9th Special Session of UNEP’s Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum
7 - 9 February 2006, Dubai, UAE

World Atlas of Coral Reefs

Cold-water coral reefs : Out of sight - no longer out of mind

UNEP Regional Seas Programme

UNEP Coral Reef Unit

UNEP's Post-Tsunami Environmental Assessments

Coral Reefs and Mangroves of the World
UNEP-WCMC's Programme


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