Public Release: 

Public calls on U.S. government to protect the world's coral reefs, new poll finds

Americans support designating coral reefs as protected areas and are willing to take personal action


Washington, DC, October 3, 2002 - The first nationwide survey on coral reef issues reports that Americans are concerned about the health of coral reefs. A majority (56%) of Americans rate the health of reefs worldwide in the negative. They are nearly unanimous (85%) in their belief that it is important for the U.S. to take a leadership role in protecting coral reefs worldwide and that regulations should be used to ensure best conservation practices.

The survey, conducted by the national research firm Edge Research in collaboration with the Coral Reef Foundation and SeaWeb sampled 1,000 American adults between May 29th and June 3rd, 2002. This comprehensive poll surveyed the public's knowledge and attitudes towards coral reefs and the growing threats to their survival.

The survey results follow on the heels of the recently published The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States, the first national assessment of the health of the nation's coral reefs by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It states that every U.S. reef system is suffering from both human and natural disturbances. U.S. reefs share problems with reefs globally, especially the effects of rapidly growing coastal populations. Over 10.5 million people now live in U.S. coastal areas adjacent to shallow coral reefs.

"Coral reefs are home to over 25 percent of all marine life and are among the world's most fragile and endangered ecosystem," says Vikki Spruill, Executive Director of SeaWeb. "We know that there is strong public support for designating marine protected areas to safeguard them from the increasing threats posed by human and natural activities."

Seventy-eight percent of Americans support designating coral reefs as protected areas, including creating some areas that would prohibit all extractive activities, and 56% favor this concept "strongly." Support for designating coral reefs as marine protected areas (MPAs) is almost identical to public support found in the SeaWeb national survey conducted in 1999 to establish areas of the ocean in U.S. territorial waters as MPAs (75% support, 10% oppose, 15% undecided).

Americans believe a significant percentage of reefs are fully-protected from damaging activities. On average, the public believes that 27% of reefs worldwide are fully protected from the activities that can damage them. The reality in the U.S. and around the world is that less than 1% of ocean waters are fully protected from extractive and destructive activities.

"Though many Americans feel they know little about coral reefs, they believe that reefs are in trouble and should be protected," says Shawn Reifsteck of the Coral Reef Foundation. "The American public cares about coral reefs and looks to both the U.S. government and private sector to be worldwide leaders in coral reef protection."

According to the poll, even though few Americans have experienced coral reefs first hand, many plan to and will take reef protection into account when vacationing in reef locations. While Americans place much of the responsibility for reef protection on government, they are also willing to make personal consumption choices or contributions to reef conservation when visiting these areas. When asked to consider the total cost of a vacation to a coral reef area, Americans are willing to add meaningful sums to support the conservation of the coral reefs in that area, assuming they knew the money was dedicated to the protection and scientific research of the reef. Seventy-two percent would pay an additional $10 fee per person, 65% would pay an additional $20 per person and fully 51% would pay an additional $50 per person. A surprising third (35%) would pay as much as $100 more per person. When it comes to cruise vacations, 78% of Americans surveyed would be less likely to travel on a cruise ship that causes pollution on coral reefs through the discharge of waste and bilge water.

Although tropical coral reefs cover only one-tenth of one percent of the entire area of the oceans, they are home to 25% of all marine life, including fish and thousands of other species. Globally, serious reef degradation and loss is occurring throughout SE Asia, the Caribbean, and in most areas in close proximity to human population centers. It is widely cited that 10% of the world's corals have already been degraded beyond recovery and that another 60% are likely to decline significantly within the next 30 years unless conservation measures are implemented. The most important and immediate threats to coral reefs are typically associated with human activity. Which include: overfishing; fishing practices involving explosives or cyanide; smothering by sediments from dredging; coastal construction; damage from boats and recreational diving; and conditions under a reduced ozone layer and changing global climate.

For a complete report of the data, please visit the Coral Reef Foundation's website at:

The Coral Reef Foundation is a community foundation dedicated to the conservation of coral reefs around the globe. SeaWeb is a non-profit environmental organization whose mission is to raise awareness of the living ocean. This survey was conducted with the support of The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation and The Henry Foundation.


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