The main aim is to rapidly bolster existing coral reef conservation efforts globally, by catalyzing new targeted action and investment in key geographies. 50 Reefs will focus on identifying and protecting the reefs that are least vulnerable to climate change that also have the greatest capacity to repopulate other reefs over time. The initiative will also aim to become a leading voice in advocating greater climate action - critical for the plan's ultimate success in saving coral reefs.


2. Why are you launching 50 Reefs now?

Coral reefs are disappearing at increasing rates (1-2% per year) and are on track to disappear completely in 30-40 years (we’ve already lost 50% of corals in the last 30 years). Approximately 90% of coral reefs will be lost due to climate change – even if the targets set by the Paris climate agreement are achieved. The loss of coral reefs will impact over 500 million people around the world who rely on them for food and income. We need a global effort now to identify and protect the coral reefs that can survive climate change as possible.


3. Why only “50” reefs?

First, 50 is a number large enough to protect coral reefs in all of the major geographic regions of the world. Secondly, 50 is a manageable number to focus on at the start of the initiative. There are over 300,000 square kilometers of coral reefs in the world – picking only 50 of the world’s reefs to focus additional effort on is achievable but also ambitious. 50 Reefs takes a long-term strategic view, the initiative will determine how best to protect and rebuild the world’s coral reefs – starting with the 50 coral reefs that are most likely to survive local pressures and climate change, and are the most likely to be able to rebuild future coral reefs.


4. How is the 50 Reefs initiative different from other scientific and conservation efforts to protect coral reefs?

50 Reefs is the only global plan to save coral reefs. Conservation efforts to date focus on regions, not addressing the loss of reefs problem from a global perspective. 50 Reefs is also the only initiative drawing together top-tier scientists to do this type of assessment and convening conservation practitioners to inform a global conservation strategy based on this data-driven analysis. We hope to be able to expand the list of 50 Reefs over time – based on the success of the initiative and as resources become available, but initially we are starting with a manageable number.


5. What coral reefs in the world will be protected?

50 Reefs will identify and protect the coral reefs that are least vulnerable to climate change, and are most likely to repopulate other regions. These reefs will act as the seed banks of future reefs, playing a critical role in the long-term recovery of coral reef ecosystems.


6. What is a “seed bank?”

A coral reef “seed bank” has the ability to act as a source of larvae - this varies dramatically from one reef to another. Climate change affects the distribution (where corals are found) and abundance (how many there are) of corals. In doing so, it has reduced both the number of corals that are able to reproduce, generating new coral larvae, and also the amount of available substrate for new larvae to settle.


7. What are the main environmental, social, and economic issues addressed by 50 Reefs?

In the last 30 years, 50% of the world’s corals have died (largely due to coral bleaching. If urgent action isn’t taken, approximately 90% of the remaining coral reefs will be lost due to climate change. This means, that even if the targets set by the Paris climate agreement are met, 90% of coral reefs will be lost. This loss of coral reefs will impact the more than 500 million people around the world who rely on them for food and income.


8. Are the coral reefs identified by this initiative the entire 10% that are expected to survive?

The coral reefs identified will represent a sub-set of the 10% of coral reefs likely to survive climate change.


9. What biodiversity will be represented in the coral reefs identified by 50 Reefs?

Coral reef locations will represent a large proportion of biological diversity, among other indicators carefully considered. The 50 Reefs initiative aims to find the balance and optimize the outcomes for biodiversity of coral reefs across the world. Ocean-based ecosystems have larger distributions than terrestrial-based ecosystems (e.g., many of the coral species found in the Indian Ocean can also be found in the Pacific Ocean), meaning that preserving species from extinction will have a greater chance.


10. Will the criteria to determine the “50 reefs” cross reference data from any other lists such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species?

Potentially. The specific criteria are yet to be determined by a team of the world’s top coral reef scientists. The list will focus on climate change, but also areas like endangered or threatened species.


11. If 90% of corals will be gone by 2050, but the Paris climate commitments put the planet on a path to 3.5-4°C warming by 2100, does that mean 100% of coral reefs will be gone much sooner than 2050?

Currently, we are on a pathway to 3.5-4°C warming by 2100. If this happens, science tells us coral reefs will disappear. Given this, we fully expect that the international community will come back and adjust, agreeing that we need to keep global temperature rise to well below 2°C as agreed in Paris.


12. Why are coral reefs important? 

Coral reefs are found in over 100 countries and cover an estimated 300,000 square kilometers (110,000 square miles). Although they cover less than 0.1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs are important for a variety of reasons:

  • Economy: Coral reefs were recently valued as a $1 trillion asset that provides ~$400 million in benefits/year.
  • Habitat: Coral reefs take up less than 0.1% of surface of planet, yet they are home to 25% of marine life.
  • Food and jobs: Approximately 500 million people living in coastal communities rely on reefs for their food and livelihoods.
  • Coastal Protection: Near-shore reefs help break up wave energy and protect coastlines from storm damage. They also work closely with other ecosystems like mangroves and seagrass to help in other coastal protection measures.
  • Climate Change: Coral reefs act as a canary in a coal mine, they serve as a serious warning that ocean conditions are becoming very harsh and life threatening.