Coral Reefs


Coral reefs are the world’s most productive marine ecosystems. Reef-building corals contain tiny cells of symbiotic algae that convert sunlight and nutrients into fuel for coral growth and production. Other types of corals that do not require warm water or sunlight are found in deep water, providing important habitats for commercial, recreational and other species.

Why care about coral reefs?

Healthy coral reefs are some of the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on earth, providing food, jobs, recreational opportunities, coastal protection and other important services to billions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, many of the world’s coral reefs (including associated seagrass beds and mangrove habitats) have been damaged or destroyed due to increasing human impacts, climate change, and other factors. According to the Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004, 70% of the worlds’ coral reefs are threatened or destroyed, 20% of those are damaged beyond repair, and within the Caribbean alone, many coral reefs have lost 80% of coral species. The decline and loss of coral reef ecosystems has significant social, economic, and ecological impacts on people and communities in the U.S. and around the world.


Coral reefs provide habitat for one-third of all marine fish species, build tropical islands, protect coasts from waves and storms, contain an array of potential pharmaceuticals, and support tourism and fishing industries worth billions of dollars. Coral reefs are also fundamental to the fabric of local communities, providing a source of food, materials and traditional activities.


Critical information is still lacking about the causes of coral decline but evidence suggests a variety of human forces, including population increases, shoreline development, land-based sources of pollution, increased sediments in the water, damage by tourists and divers, groundings, poor water quality from runoff and sewage treatment, and overfishing. In addition, increased stress from global warming and sea level rise act separately and in combination with natural factors (hurricanes and disease) to degrade reefs.


DAR supports critical planning efforts, community action, awareness-raising activities, scientific research with direct management applications, and on-the-ground management projects. Key outcomes of this work include greater capacity to enforce coral reef protections and increased understanding of the key threats to reef ecosystems at priority sites. DAR applies for a competitive grant from NOAA’s Coral Reef Management Grant Program to fund these important projects.


Learn more about coral and live rock, rules pertaining to them, and view descriptive information about eight common Hawaiian corals on this page.

Coral Reefs Site

Please visit the Coral Reefs Site for more information about coral reefs in the State of Hawaiʻi.