Conservation & Research

Importance of Corals & Coral Reefs

Reefs protect coastlines from harsh ocean storms and floods.

Coral reefs support a variety of commercial and artisanal fisheries including those for nearshore fishes, crustaceans, and molluscs.

Coral reefs attract millions of scuba divers, snorkelers, and other tourists every year.

Some evidence suggests that corals and other reef inhabitants could potentially provide important medicines, including anti-cancer drugs, painkillers, and anti-inflammatory compounds.

National & International Regulations

Corals should not be collected, either alive or dead. The United States federal government prohibits the removal or destruction of corals from all areas of the continental shelf within a three-mile limit.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission prohibits the collection of living or dead stony corals (Order Scleractinia) or fire corals (Millepora spp.) within Florida waters.

Collection of hard corals is also banned in Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates international trade of certain animals and plants. More specifically, the Convention regulates the import, export, re-export, and introduction from the sea of certain plants and animals. Species for which CITES controls trade are included in one of three appendices. These appendices classify animals in terms of their vulnerability. Many corals are classified by CITES as Appendix II species. These species are not necessarily threatened with extinction but may become so unless their trade is strictly controlled. Appendix II includes the following corals:

  • Indo-Pacific blue coral (Heliopora coerulea; Family Helioporidae, Order Helioporacea)
  • Organ-pipe coral (Tubipora musica; Family Tubiporidae, Order Stolonifera)
  • All corals in the Order Scleractinia (1634 species of reef- building, stony corals)
  • All corals in the order Antipatharia (245 species of black corals)

Protecting Coral Reefs

The establishment of marine sanctuaries or preserves may help ensure the availability of this ecosystem in the years to come.

The Australian government established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 1975 to manage and protect a large part of the reef. In addition, the Great Barrier Reef was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, providing further protection to this 2,300 km (1,430 mi) long coral reef system.

In United States waters, the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary system is composed of 14 federally-protected underwater regions including more than 150,000 square miles of ocean and Great Lakes waters. The following are sanctuaries that protect corals and coral reefs:

  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
  • Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (Gulf of Mexico)
  • Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (Hawaii)
  • Papahänaumokuäkea Marine National Monument (Northwestern Hawaiian Islands)
  • Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (American Samoa)

You can help protect coral reefs in many different ways.

If you visit a coral reef, be sure not to sit on, stand on, or even touch live coral. Divers or snorkelers should rest by floating or standing on the sandy bottom. They should be very careful not to grab on to any coral formations.

Boaters should take care when navigating around the coral reefs. Anchors shouldn't be dropped directly on the reef, but on a near-by sandy area.

Take photos of coral reefs rather than collecting dead or living coral, which damages the reef and is prohibited in many areas.

If you set up a marine aquarium at home, purchase fish that have either been aquarium raised rather than collected from the wild or collected from a Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) certified retailer.

Support sustainable fisheries by only eating seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

To help reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the Earth's atmosphere and, eventually, the oceans, reduce your energy use whenever you can. A few simple ways you can reduce your energy use are:

  • Drive less and use alternative types of transportation.
  • At home, turn off lights and computers and unplug appliances when not in use.
  • Recycle cans, glass, plastic, and paper as much as possible when at home, at school, or at work.

SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund

The non-profit SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund is committed to species research, habitat protection, animal rescue, and conservation education. The Fund was created to strengthen and expand the parks' existing conservation efforts while also providing guests an easy, direct way to make a difference for wildlife.

Since 2003, the Fund has granted millions of dollars to more than 300 conservation projects around the world, including those dedicated to the conservation of coral reef ecosystems. To learn more about the Fund and the various projects it helps support visit

  • Project: "Conserving Intact Caribbean Coral Reefs: Research and Environmental Education in Los Roques Archipelago National Park, Venezuela"

    Partner: Conservation International

    Location: Venezuela

    With support from the Fund, this project provided vital information on the ecology and health of these reefs. It is using this information to produce educational materials for a public awareness campaign promoting local reef conservation.

  • Project: "Surveys on the Catch and Trade of Giant Clams in Vietnam"

    Partner: Institute of Oceanography, Department of Aquaculture Biotechnology

    Location: Vietnam

    The Fund is helped local researchers conduct a formal survey on giant clams in the coastal areas of Vietnam to assess the feasibility of the catch and trade of giant clams and propose fisheries management solutions. The results of this survey serve as baseline data to develop a strategy for protection and management of giant clams in Vietnam.