Corals build the reef structure and provide the basis for a functioning coral reef ecosystem. Without corals, reefs will degrade and vanish within years. At present day, coral reefs are facing multiple stresses caused by pollution, overfishing, and climate change with its ensuing temperature rise. Consequently, over 30 % of the world’s coral reefs are considered seriously damaged and 60 % may die within the next 20 years—very few pristine coral reefs still exist (ICRI, NOAA, Reefbase). The impact of the ongoing climate change, directly affecting coral reefs by an already measurable rise of sea water temperature, was manifested by the third global bleaching event in 2015/16 (NOAA declares third ever global coral bleaching event, El Niño prolongs longest global coral bleaching event, heating up corals). This event has caused a mass die-off of corals.
A world without corals not only means we will have a less diverse ocean, but it will be also an economic disaster for many people—predominantly in developing countries. Fisheries and tourism are important livelihoods that directly depend on healthy coral reefs. They are nurseries for many fish species, including commercial ones, and attract millions of tourists every year. Coral reefs offer natural coastal protection, especially in areas frequently impacted by hurricanes and tropical storms. The great biodiversity of coral reefs serves as an important source for new medicinal remedies. Altogether, coral reefs comprise an area of almost 300 000 km². With an economic values of US$100 000-600 000 per km² ('In the front line', UNEP report, 2006) they provide one of the most valuable ecosystem services. Coral reefs are among the most sensitive ecosystems and act as an early warning system. Their alarming status represents the poor health of our oceans and, if coral reefs disappear, other marine realms may soon follow.
Corals have existed for more than 400 million years; yet stresses and changes from human activities are happening faster than their ability to adapt. Corals may not survive the intensity and swiftness of these ongoing changes. A matter of vital importance is sexual reproduction of corals—as it is for most species. Sexual reproduction maintains genetic diversity and is important for the persistence of a species. Genetic diversity enables species to cope with a naturally dynamic environment in the long-term. Corals under stress are likely to stop sexual reproduction. Thus, the survival of the species will be at risk. SECORE is working to give coral reefs a future.